Ride-alongs and drive-bys

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court let stand an appeals-court decision that made media folk liable for invading the privacy of a couple in the process of being arrested. The decision said that CNN journalists compromised Paul and Emma Berger's right to privacy when the network cut a deal with federal agents to "ride along" and videotape the proceedings for broadcast. That ruling brings us full circle (in under 10 years!) from the Rodney King revolution, in which videotape became the great and good protection of the people from The Man.

In just the same way, a new software/Web add-on called Third Voice promises to allow anyone to ride along on any Web site they please, adding commentary, suggesting related links, and inciting conversations amongst the rest of the readership. With Third Voice software, the Web shakes off its mantle of passive consumption and blooms with lively, impromptu discussion and feedback.

I wish I believed this is really how annotation would be used. That would rock. But let's be honest—you and I both know that Third Voice is less likely to be used for scintillating discussion and erudite counterpoint and more likely to be used for mayhem.

Oh, there'll be plenty of stupid "huh! #@%!"-type graffiti and plenty of ads for cheesy sex sites, and those will be annoying, but that's no big thing. I'm talking evil here—Church of Scientology drones littering anti-CoS sites with drivel and noise designed to drown out dissidents (sort of like they have in the alt.religion.scientology Usenet group), hate groups defacing ADL and NAACP sites, dictatorships like Burma attacking pro-democracy information, that kind of thing.

And the agents of mayhem will always, always have the last word, because there's nothing site creators can do to stop it, or to block Third Voice annotations from appearing on their pages. The Web will have gone full circle—from enhancing free speech to allowing free speech to aiding and abetting the people who scream loudest. Thus American progress can be measured as a move from the Wild West

style frontier to a land of digital drive-by shootings.

Well, like the lady said, language is a virus. In the case of Worm.ExploreZip, on the other hand, the virus is a language, or at least a statement. Timed to coincide with the on-sale date for Office 2000, ExploreZip (actually a worm, not a virus) disguised itself as a file sent by a trusted source. Once victims clicked open the trusted file, the worm ate every Word, Excel, and PowerPoint file in sight. It was, in short, a real bastard and very hurtful.

The first worm, you understand, was a relatively friendly little fellow that only wanted to see if it could, in fact, move from computer to computer, and only crashed all those systems (one-tenth of the Internet!) because the author, a Cornell undergrad named Robert Morris Jr., didn't write it very well. Back then worms and viruses had to stay small to slip through the narrow bandwidth available to the tiny 1988-era Net community—large enough for curiosity and exploration, too small for anonymous destruction and malice.

Virus- and worm-writers that prey on the innocence (or obliviousness) of less-experienced users, and especially those who cause actual harm to actual people's handiwork, are the death knell to the old Spirit of the Net. Many hackers and code cowboys are indeed anti-establishment, pro-freedom heroes, and so these folk may claim to be as well.

They're lying. They're terrorists, so eager to show their contempt for The Man—in this case, Microsoft—that they'll hurt a bunch of hapless villagers to make their point. Classic terrorism—except that the perps forgot to present a list of demands, which means their "terrorism" devolves to basic asshole-ism. Suppose the color commentary from Third Voice users will be any better?*

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