Analysis of Laurie Garrett February 20, 2003 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Lawmeme, Yale University's excellent law blog, has published quite an amazing analysis of the Laurie Garrett discussion.
The author, James Grimmelmann (our own grimmelm), not only critiques Garrett but also has some very interesting things to say about the MeFi response. This is not your "typical" various insundry blog entry, it is more akin to the basis of a thesis. I realize this was posted in the thread, but it is definitely worth added exposure.
posted by anathema to MetaFilter-Related at 9:10 AM (48 comments total)

I think that's a great article. The only thing that makes me cringe is the inclusion of the aliases in attributions. It sadly undermines every point made when exposed to the light of places other than metafilter.
posted by crunchland at 9:29 AM on February 20, 2003

Would you rather there was no attribution, crunchland? Seems to me people would be a lot more displeased with that. Do you have a suggestion for grimmelm?
posted by anathema at 9:41 AM on February 20, 2003

I was once asked to be quoted in an article based on some flippant comment I wrote, and I freaked out, "No no, what I wrote was just for shits and giggles on Metafilter... a wildly popular... community ... public website... yeah."

Which is vaguely like the whole Garrett thing I suppose, except dumber because I was talking about Playstations or something.
posted by Stan Chin at 9:46 AM on February 20, 2003

Which is why walrus's next statement -- "If you're looking for somewhere to shove the "blame" though, you may want to start closer to home." -- is so disturbing.

Hey, all walrus's statements are disturbing. He's a poet; that's what he does: create disturbances. ;)


Extraterrestrials, us?

No, seriously: that has to be the one good article ever written about MeFi that takes into account its wide range of opinions and actually adds to the value of a discussion. Congratulations all round.

What a loser!;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:06 AM on February 20, 2003

I feel embarassed whenever members of the MeFi community get all up-in-arms and rally against some attack against the familly.

I generally don't find myself in the "it's just a web site" camp, but if some elitist (or even well-meaning) journalist wants to get offended and chastize members of a discussion thread, so what? Let them shout into the wind. Their impact on me is pretty close to zero.

I haven't read the linked article, so this may be misplaced. I read the thread though, and while her letter made me roll my eyes, some of the responses to it made me cringe.
posted by willnot at 10:13 AM on February 20, 2003

Why shouldn't we rally against the suggestion that we're Internet addicted shut-ins who substitute this Web site for a life? Even if it was entirely true, I don't think we should take that kind of guff from an uninformed outsider simply because she made a lucky guess.
posted by rcade at 10:30 AM on February 20, 2003

*slaps willnot*


Don't ever let anyone outside the family know what your thinkin'

posted by jonmc at 10:30 AM on February 20, 2003

Brilliant analysis, grimmelm, and many thanks for posting it here, anathema!

I haven't read the linked article, so this may be misplaced.

When you reread that in preview, maybe you should have thought twice before hitting Post.
posted by languagehat at 10:39 AM on February 20, 2003

psht! give a lawyer a dumbass neo-journalist who put her foot in her mouth and whaddaya get? a friggin treatise!

[laurie]: "i pooped on my lawn. then i stepped in it. wah!"

[lawmeme]: We're back at one of the great truisms of lawn defecation: people who eliminate in the dooryard put their footwear in jeopary.
posted by quonsar at 10:48 AM on February 20, 2003

Her message to them [MetaFilter members] ends with a peroration to "Be a citizen of the real world" and invokes the image of William Shatner telling a convention of Star Trek fans to get a life.

All I want to know is, who is our Shatner?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:51 AM on February 20, 2003

one of the great truisms of lawn defecation

And the others are what?
posted by y2karl at 11:15 AM on February 20, 2003

I'm always amused by people who think that participation in online dialogue and being part of some kind of online society automatically makes one a shut in introvert that can't deal with the real world. While I'm sure there are some who fit that definition, I sincerely doubt it is the norm.
posted by Plunge at 11:28 AM on February 20, 2003

jonmc, made my day. Hilarious!!! I can even hear the hoarse voice as I reread it!
posted by 111 at 11:37 AM on February 20, 2003

And the others are what?
posted by quonsar at 11:42 AM on February 20, 2003

Metafilter: This spread is a good thing
posted by blue_beetle at 12:10 PM on February 20, 2003

If you're going to write something, anything at all, you'd better be prepared to share. … I don't think that the MeFi-ites quoted above would like to live there either. Having thus rejected the third premise of the caricature libertarian viewpoint [sharing is good] …

I’m not sure the “sharing is good” idea should be so quickly dismissed. Standing behind what you say and trying to be consistent in private and public are high standards, but they’re not necessarily unworthy ones. Biographer Louis Fischer wrote of one left-libertarian: “No man knows himself or can describe himself with fidelity. But he can reveal himself. This is especially true of Gandhi. He believed in revealing himself. He regarded secrecy as the enemy of freedom--not only the freedom of India but the freedom of man. He exposed even the innermost personal thoughts which individuals usually regard as private. In nearly a half-century of prolific writing, speaking, and subjecting his ideas to the test of actions, he painted a detailed self-portrait of his mind, heart, and soul.” Yeah, yeah, we can’t all be Gandhi, but …
posted by win_k at 12:40 PM on February 20, 2003

Yeah, yeah, we can’t all be Gandhi, but …

But we should be forced to Reveal All anyway? That's what this is about, not voluntarily "sharing" but having everything you write exposed to the view of (potentially) the whole world. How is this good? (Whether it's inevitable is a different question.)
posted by languagehat at 12:51 PM on February 20, 2003

Wait, so some people forward other people's emails? And then other people sometimes even post those emails on the web? And then yet more people actually go and read them?!? And these other people, they have their own opinions??!!??!!?

Boy is the Internet a scary place.
posted by mattpfeff at 1:14 PM on February 20, 2003

Everything will get out, whether it'll be forwarded by email or dug up by an archeologist. Take precautions, buy an IBM harddrive.
posted by holloway at 1:19 PM on February 20, 2003

Hey thanks for pointing this out anathema and thanks for the time in deeply pondering it grimmelm! Fascinating take. . .

I didn't mean to come off as a chiding total fucking bastard who has no place saying something like that to Pulitzer winner, but like it's been said, "I didn't ask to be born". Likewise, I didn't ask to read the original "Could this be true" link. I just did. It was there. I clicked.
posted by crasspastor at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2003

What is this "real world" you speak of? Do I need a television to know?
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:26 PM on February 20, 2003

What is this "real world" you speak of?

It's otherwise known as "the blue room". It's that thing outside the windows of your house, where all the crazy stuff happens.

I make a point to go into the blue room once every few days, just to remind myself why it is safer inside.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:32 PM on February 20, 2003

anathema : I have no idea what the answer is. All I know is that when I read grimmelm's article, I was thinking that all the fascinating, articulate, and cogent quotes from metafilter were somehow cancelled out because they came from, amoung others, a walrus.
posted by crunchland at 1:41 PM on February 20, 2003

Sorry about that, "crunchland". My real name is readily discoverable, however.
posted by walrus at 2:07 PM on February 20, 2003

And I didn't mean that meanly, if you know what I ... etc.
posted by walrus at 2:08 PM on February 20, 2003

I think most reporters try to use real names, unless some/any are not available. My guess is that one of the quotes didn't have a real name in the profile, so it'd look stupid to have 9 quotes from people named by their first and last names, with 1 called "donkeyschlong"

Besides, if I read this, it would appear authoritative to me:

"koo koo kachoo"
-- walrus
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:14 PM on February 20, 2003

All I want to know is, who is our Shatner?

I think Laurie believes herself to be Shatner in that analogy, which is kind of presumptuous and funny in its own right.
posted by me3dia at 2:30 PM on February 20, 2003

so it'd look stupid to have 9 quotes from people named by their first and last names, with 1 called "donkeyschlong"

I don't know why I found that so funny, but I just spewed Mt. Dew everywhere and my daughter gave me a look like I'm nuts... Oh well...
posted by Plunge at 2:36 PM on February 20, 2003

Wonderful piece, grimmelm. One of the best MeFi-related commentaries I've ever read.

Ernest_Miller has a point, though, in his comment at the end: "A loss to whom? Not being part of Garrett's social circles, her decision to no longer send email to her friends is no loss to me." You seem to be implying that it would be sad if she stopped writing these emails because this information is interesting to the public and/or should be preserved for posterity; but the very problem is that it falls into her personal category of "things that must never be shared with the public". It's not like this breach will stop her writing emails to her friends about her regular ol' holidays; a letter like that would never have been forwarded so widely. It was precisely the sensitive insider information contained in her letter that made it eminently "publishable".

As you point out so well, the leak was less a single major betrayal of trust than a series of lesser indiscretions. It was actually a chain of leaks, and by writing the original letter she was the first link in the chain. All she can do when faced with that sort of risk is not share highly sensitive information at all. So she's in the same boat as a high-level bureaucrat, or a business magnate, or anyone else in possession of closely-guarded secrets. They leak sensitive info too, but they make damn sure they keep their name out of it.

To use a more writerly example, novelists have always faced a similar problem when contemplating their drafts: if they're truly embarrassing they have to destroy them, or else they'll end up in an archive somewhere after they're gone. (Think of the uneasy note struck by reviewers of Douglas Adams's The Salmon of Doubt about the propriety of sifting through his hard drive.)

And Garrett's problem is the same one that many of us who write for the web face every day. There's a lot we simply can't say if we don't want to hurt our friends, family, colleagues, or future employment prospects, so most of us don't - even if it's juicy stuff that would be entertaining to read. (Except when it comes to posting Political Compass readings in one handily accessible place where anyone can find them. "Down with Total Information Awareness! By the way, here's mine.")
posted by rory at 2:55 PM on February 20, 2003

so it'd look stupid to have 9 quotes from people named by their first and last names, with 1 called "donkeyschlong"

Could be worse.
posted by wanderingmind at 3:17 PM on February 20, 2003

All I want to know is, who is our Shatner?

I don't think any of us Shatner.
She Shatner'self...
posted by dash_slot- at 3:38 PM on February 20, 2003

mathowie, the REAL slim walrus would say "Goo goo g'joob!" :)
posted by elphTeq at 4:07 PM on February 20, 2003

I make a point to go into the blue room once every few days

wait a sec: the blue room is MetaFilter, the gray room is MetaTalk

posted by matteo at 4:08 PM on February 20, 2003

Re: attribution -

Lessig's books on law and Net culture frequently discuss MUDs, chatrooms, BBSs, and discussion boards where terms like "self-authentication" and "reasonably forseeable" appear cheek-by-jowl with the usual handles (FyrStorm, furryMama, dR. belcH...).

It looks a little silly, maybe, but this is the age we live in. Why shouldn't it come to be reflected in our more "serious" deliberative documents?
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:14 PM on February 20, 2003

Re: Attribution:

We'd be very foolish too assume the 'real name' in all user profiles was real.
posted by DBAPaul at 5:03 PM on February 20, 2003

My username is real. Real what, I'm not sure. And who'd ever take a name like "adamgreenfield" seriously?

I think the implicit attitude toward on-line nomenclature evidenced on MeFi is a lovely example of an organic evolution to a very sensible system. As I come to know the thought of many members, I see no reason to devalue opinions based on my lack of knowledge of their meatspace origins.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 5:20 PM on February 20, 2003

sweet. i love getting namechecked.

bring me your uniques!

the only user described by hemingway's ghost as "that fish-obscenity!"

posted by fishfucker at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2003

le lover of fishes
posted by adampsyche at 6:04 PM on February 20, 2003

"MeFi had a major role in exposing the Kaycee Nicole hoax two years ago, so the community tends to have an investigative spirit."

Shouldn't that be the other way around?
posted by ODiV at 8:04 PM on February 20, 2003

Post hoc ergo propter hoc, I guess...
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:11 PM on February 20, 2003

Blue Room. Grey Room. Red Pil. Blue Pill.


posted by owillis at 10:57 PM on February 20, 2003

Regarding the circumstances surrounding the original leak, I've been extremely curious about one thing: Were, I wonder, the "handful of friends" all included as a string of names in the c.c. header? I occasionally get messages like this, from some friend or other who has also sent the mail to a "handful of other friends", of whom perhaps about half the names will be familiar to me. This always looks to me like an invitation to share, and never strikes me as a message encoded by the traditional implicit privacy policy between friends. If this was the case with Laurie's mail, the subject matter and the jaunty "reportorial" tone of the letter combined with a readable list of multiple addressees would just about eliminate any chance that the message would not be circulated...
posted by taz at 12:17 AM on February 21, 2003

Great article grimmelm.

Did Laurie Garrett have anything to say when her book was praised on metafilter last November?
posted by Tarrama at 2:22 AM on February 21, 2003

ODiV: nice catch. I rephrased the sentence (the ability to do this is one of the luxuries of web publication). I think the investigative spirit got a big boost from the Kaycee Nicole affair, but I didn't mean to imply that that spirit wasn't present already.

In terms of attributions, using MetaFilter logins seemed the obvious choice. It's how people here present themselves to others; it's how others refer to them. Plus, anyone who wants to know more can just click on the link to the actual quotation, and click from there to the user page, where'll they'll learn exactly as much as the user feels comfortable sharing.
posted by grimmelm at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2003

Languagehat: But we should be forced to Reveal All anyway? That's what this is about, not voluntarily "sharing" but having everything you write exposed to the view of (potentially) the whole world. How is this good? (Whether it's inevitable is a different question.)

Well, it’s an incentive to be conscientious and responsible about what one writes. It also supports what the Buddhists call “right speech,” in which one avoids lying, divisive and abusive speech, & idle chatter. Another benefit of the reveal-yourself concept is that it could lead a person to stop using different and perhaps conflicting personas for the different groups with whom s/he talks—perhaps leading to a higher version of “be yourself.” It certainly becomes harder to be two-faced. Ms. Garrett would like to preserve her ability to be two-faced: polished professional & sloppy gossip, and she’s mad and embarrassed to have been caught. Who wouldn’t be?

How many people here are working from the assumption that we should protect peoples’ ability to project thoroughly different personas to different audiences? Doing so is defensible in many cases (between lovers, for example). However, beyond a certain point, protection of privacy can become protection of duplicity. I can’t pin down the line, but I think Garrett’s over on the duplicity side. I doubt the WEF folk who mingled with the professional knew they were being dished about by the gossip. (How lucky that she was mostly flattering.) Gandhi’s standard about being upfront in revealing yourself prevents this kind of duplicity, instead provoking honesty, consistency, deliberation … not bad things in my book. Tough to live up to, though.
posted by win_k at 3:42 PM on February 22, 2003

in an aside -- Bruce Sterling posted some running commentary on the meat of the letter, here.
posted by condour75 at 8:17 PM on February 22, 2003

Thanks, condour75, that was a useful link. And I'm embarrassed to say I found the e-mail a good deal more respectable after Bruce S. cleaned up the spelling. (I still find her enthusiasm about how these world-dominating types are real people, just like you and me, repellent; that's exactly why if I were an investigative reporter I'd follow I.F. Stone's lead and refuse to even meet the bastards. It's depressing how hard it is for even intelligent people to realize that just because you're a cutthroat businessman or warmongering dictator doesn't mean you can't be charming when the situation calls for it.)
posted by languagehat at 12:31 PM on February 23, 2003

"the blue room"

Arrggh! Bright light, bright light!
posted by dg at 6:37 PM on February 23, 2003

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