You own your own words
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You own your own words

Regarding the Kathy Sierra situation, Chris Locke offered this in his own defense:

I was a conference host on the Well 15 years ago where the core ethos was acronymized to YOYOW — You Own Your Own Words. This has remained a guiding principle for me ever since. I will not take responsibility for what someone else said, nor will I censor what another individual wrote. However, it was clear that Sierra was upset, so it seemed the best course to make the whole site go away.

I’ve been on the Well a long time myself, and I wanted to make it clear that Locke misrepresents what the “you own your own words” policy means and how it is applied on the Well. First of all, the Well is an old school text-based BBS that you log into via telnet or SSH. They also have a web interface, but most of the old timers still log in via the text interface. It’s a place to chat with other people about various topics. If you’re interested in the Well, Katie Hafner’s cover story from Wired 5.05 is as good a place as any to start.

The point of YOYOW is that everything you write on the Well remains your property. So if someone wants to take one of your posts off of the Well and publish it on their blog, they have to secure your permission. That’s the extent of it. It says nothing about how people are to conduct themselves or whether or not people are allowed to censor one another.

The Well is organized into conferences based on topic. There are conferences on politics, current events, the media, television, games, sports, you name it. There are even a couple of conferences like “weird” and “flame.ind” that are basically free fire zones. Conference hosts (volunteers appointed by the staff of the Well) are given wide latitude when it comes to setting standards for conduct in their conferences and enforcing those standards. For example, the hosts of the politics conference generally insist on people not descending to name calling in their arguments, and will, if necessary, ban people from the conference temporarily or delete their posts if they don’t follow the rules. Other conferences are more lenient. The bottom line is that each conference is a forum with its own rules, its own regulars, and its own culture.

So the idea that the Well is some kind of open space online where people can throw down as rudely as they like is completely inaccurate. The reason the site has been around for over twenty years is that there is a culture that allows for self-preservation. Even then, people have left because it’s too rough and tumble, and people have left because they felt like their freedom of speech was being trampled. Some people have been banned permanently for no other reason than because they’re jerks who persistently ruined things for everyone else. (Unsurprisingly, some of those people have turned to blogs as their outlet.)

Chris Locke must have forgotten what the Well is like over the past 15 years or so. He needs to find another example to support his professed ethos.

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