< How to Anger the Internet


Friday, November 12, 2010

BOB GARFIELD: Speaking of copyright, on November 3rd, writer and blogger Monica Gaudio posted a story on her LiveJournal about how a small Massachusetts magazine called Cooks Source had published, without her permission, an article she had written about apple pie. Gaudio said she then asked Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs to print an apology and to donate 130 dollars to the Columbia School of Journalism. Instead, she got a response which read, in part:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: “But honestly, Monica, the Web is considered ‘public domain’ and you should be happy we didn't just ‘lift’ your whole article and put someone else’s name on it.” She added: “If you took offense and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing and is much better now than was originally.” She concluded: “You should compensate me.”

BOB GARFIELD: The backlash on the Internet was swift and severe. Netizens scoured old issues of Cooks Source and found more articles and photographs seemingly plagiarized from the Food Network and Martha Stewart. Cooks Source’s Facebook page was overrun with users mocking Griggs, some of whom posted her phone number and address. Her advertisers were called about her ethical indiscretion. Her letter spawned a meme with the phrase “But honestly, Monica,” and the verb “to Griggs” was coined, meaning to use content on the Web without permission, then request payment from the original author [LAUGHS] for rewrites and editing.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Tuesday, Cooks Source issued an apology, saying that it had made the requested donation to the Columbia Journalism School as well as an additional donation to the Western New England Food Bank in Gaudio’s name. The magazine also pledged to be more careful in vetting submitted articles and assigning credit going forward. Too little, too late. Griggs had enraged the Internet. But how much of that was due to righteous indignation and how much to a kind of online mob mentality that ignites on a dime? Last year we spoke to writer Mattathias Schwartz about the website 4chan, whose users frequently engage in this kind of Internet blitzkrieg.

MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ: They do it for fun. They do it for a sense of release. And they do it because when you’re looking at someone across a screen hundreds of miles away, you don't have to empathize with them at all.

BOB GARFIELD: Schwartz considered them to be mostly harmless, saying, quote: “It’s important to keep in mind that it’s impossible to hurt a person through a computer.” Yet some cases of Internet vigilantism have had real-world consequences. Most recently, in October, a British woman named Mary Bale was fined 250 pounds and banned from keeping pets for five years after a video of her tossing a cat into a garbage can, taken from a closed-circuit camera, was posted online, outraging users on 4chan.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Hey, maybe they all had it coming. The point is, the Internet allows people to unite across limitless distance, and people power can cut both ways. As NYU professor and social media expert Clay Shirky observed:

CLAY SHIRKY: The things we're unleashing into society by having this kind of new group capability are not entirely positive. Right? This is not a cyber-Utopian story. This is actually a revolution, and it’s not a revolution if nobody loses.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you better keep your head down -


BOB GARFIELD: - or someone on YouTube may wind up singing your email.

MAN SINGING: But honestly, Monica, Interwebs are public domain. And if you took offense and aren't happy – sorry.