Freedom of Speech and Anonymous Blogging

The holidays are around the corner and some of us will be indulging ourselves in festivities. I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect on freedom within the blogosphere. I live in a relatively peaceful country where I can do or say whatever I want within the boundaries of the law. In the Netherlands the law is pretty keen on freedom of speech which sometimes leads to heated debates but at the same time allows me to speak my mind.

Freedom of speech is something I take for granted. Blogging is also something I take for granted.

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What Do You Want Gone From the Web in 2008?

My report last year on the things I want gone from the web wasn’t as prophetic as I hoped. I was really hoping that people would get a “hint” – okay, a slam across the forehead – and clean up the web. The things that really annoy me, and many others, are still around, though there have been some changes and improvements this year.

Here is the status of what I wanted to see gone from the web in 2007:
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What is Yahoo!’s Role in the Blogosphere?

Ever since Yahoo! released its Shortcuts plugin for WordPress I’ve been wondering what Yahoo!’s role in the blogosphere is. The plugin is developed for Yahoo! by Alex King who wrote an impressive amount of popular WordPress plugins. Will this plugin become another success? Responses seem to mixed and vary from “Please God, no more pop-up links” to “Very Cool!

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Three Steps to Building Your Own Conspiracy Theory

To complete this series on conspiracy theories and blogs, I’ve invited one of my dearest friends, Nancy Bixler, a public speaking teacher and doctoral candidate in Rhetoric, to help you learn how to develop your own conspiracy theory, or keep one going, on your blog. I chose her because she abhors bad reasoning, but enjoys explaining the inner workings of a good conspiracy theory. Nancy offers a three step plan for building your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

By Nancy Bixler

Do you want to put forward a conspiracy theory of your own on your blog? Perhaps you suspect that the CIA and U.S. government, in an unholy union with Muammar al-Qaddafi, are, for nefarious reasons of their own, raising the taxes of middle class U.S. citizens to fund AIDS research in Libya. Or that the Catholic Church, environmentalists, the PLO, or [fill in the blank] are working underground to [fill in the blank] put hallucinogens into the local water supply, make burping in public a capitol offense, or suppress a cure for warts. No doubt they have their methods and motives.

It’s your job, as a buddying conspiracy theorist, to find some troubling elements of life that, so far (in your opinion) lack an explanation and point out the ways the hidden conspirators plan to achieve their aim. With tongue firmly in cheek, let’s look at how to create a conspiracy theory, and if all else fails, you can make your own conspiracy theory with a conspiracy theory online.
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Finding Conspiracy Blogs… and The Truth

Snopes and Urban Legends are specialists who debunk the urban legends, myths, and conspiracies that plague us worldwide. I highly recommend anyone with email or a blog check the facts before forwarding or blogging.

Snopes offers a constantly updated Hottest 25 Legends (with a feed) page, which currently features the most popular myths, urban legends, and conspiracy theories like Barack Obama and the National Anthem, The Golden Compass (anti-religon), ‘Life Is Beautiful’ Virus, Strawberry Quick (drug-filled candy), and Vicks VapoRub on children’s feet stops coughs.
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The Economics of Conspiracies

Last year, Sam Vaknin Ph.D. wrote in “The Economics of Conspiracy Theories” on the American Chronicle that many are profiting from conspiracy theories, writing books, selling magazines and television shows, even movies, becoming a celebrity for their conspiracy plots as the source or participant. In and of itself, the business of making money with conspiracies might be a conspiracy in itself:
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There is Nothing Like a Good Conspiracy

While many bloggers can spout a conspiracy theory once in a while, there are some blogs that specialize in conspiracy theories, from making them up (okay, to be fair, investigating and proving them) to debunking them. The top post on one such conspiracy theory blog, Above Top Secret, is The Coming Revolution:

Back in the 1940s the governing forces on this planet were warned by certain parties not from this planet, to change the course of the direction they were headed in, so that the peoples of Earth could unanimously have a better and positive future. Not only did the governing forces of this planet ignore the issues that they were warned about, they irrationally reacted by interpreting this warning as a declaration of war. They then diverted all their attention to developing interstellar weapons and systems to prepare for an interstellar war. They also systematically developed highly advanced technology that would control the populations of the world in every area of life. The governing forces were helped by certain extra-terrestrial intelligences that supplied them with the specifics of technology that this civilization was in no way prepared for.

This technology was used with the specific intent of controlling the minds of every individual on the planet…

You may laugh, but some take this very seriously, finding evidence all around them to support their positions. Read their evidence long enough, and you may start to see pieces of the puzzle clicking together as the irrational and disconnected are brought together in a way that makes sense.

As part of this ongoing series on Blogs and Conspiracy Theories, let’s look at how conspiracy theories get started and developed. They begin by trying to make sense of the puzzle pieces.
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I Want To Start a Controversy

Graphic copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossen - the truth is out there

Stirring the pot. Mixing it up. Making noise. Creating controversy. Attracting attention. Driving traffic stats up.

If you want to get a lot of attention, create a controversy. This has been true for thousand – maybe millions of years – of human history. It started the moment language developed into the art of storytelling. Along with stories came gossip, and rumors, and then conspiracies.

Having spent a long time living in the Middle East, I learned a lot about conspiracy theories, and the truths and lies that lie behind their creation. After all, a good conspiracy isn’t worth much unless it has a measure of truth, or at least believable fiction, within the lies and falsehoods. It helped that I’ve long been a fan of some of the best conspiracy theory fiction authors, especially authors who specialize in taking current events and exposing the dark bellies underneath the events. True or not, who cares! It makes for great reading late at night when the mind keeps asking “Why do these things happen?”, “Why me?”, or telling yourself, “They’re out to get me!”

This week, I’ll look at some of the famous conspiracy theories, on and off blogs, and how many bloggers are using conspiracy theories to attract attention and traffic, the economics of conspiracies, blog-specific conspiracies and hoaxes, and offer tips you need to know if you are going to start your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

A conspiracy theory can be anything, involving any one or any subject. There are conspiracies about war, drugs, politics, governments, health, medicine, science, history, religion, sex, economies and investments, space, animals, and even weather.

Conspiracies in History

Some of the best of Shakespeare’s work dealt with conspiracies. What was Romeo and Juliet all about if not for the underlying conspiracies. What about Hamlet? Othello? Oooh, those were conspiracy theories within conspiracy theories, who-done-its of the highest magnitude. Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, another historical classic, was a mine field of conspiracies in and out of court, still capturing our imagination after all this time.

As a storytelling (and in some cases “newsy”) communications tool, conspiracy theory is typically defined as the bringing together a wide variety of arguments, not necessarily related, and connecting them together as “evidence” to support a theory to justify, or excuse, an event, belief, or action.

In the CBC’s report on recent conspiracy theories, they cited a historical example of how a conspiracy theory was used by Philip IV of France in 1307 to bring about the downfall of the wealthy and popular warrior monk group, the Knights Templar. His accusation that the Knights were guilt of “heresy, ‘homosexual vices’ and idol worship” ensured they were blamed for the loss of Jerusalem in the sacking of the “holy land” in the Crusades, even though blame was spread all around. Hey, in war it’s always better to blame someone else other than the responsible ones, right? A good conspiracy scatters the truth with finger pointing in the wrong directions.

The article questions why conspiracy theories continue to be popular:

Some sociologists describe conspiracy theories as illegitimate and pathological, threats to political stability. Others dismiss them as entertaining narratives, as populist expressions of democratic culture.

Some have pieces of supporting evidence, some can be discredited with only a little digging, yet continue to endure.

While conspiracies are rarely true, they last because we love a good story. A well-told conspiracy makes for a great story. Add some mystery and mayhem and it’s even juicier. And gets better with the retelling.

JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, O.J., Princess Diana, 911, Katrina, Watergate, Irangate, Gitmogate, and something about a cigar and a president – we’ve all experienced great conspiracy dramas within our own recent history that fill the news for months and months as everyone tries to guess whose right, and whose wrong, and what’s the real truth behind the truth. These conspiracies are part of our culture.

In the newly released version of the movie Hairspray, dragged to the television to watch something “amazing”, the mother says to her daughter’s best friend, “I read all about it. It’s a big Hollywood set… you want me to actually believe he’s really up there…” referring to the popular conspiracy theory that in its rush to get into outer space and to the moon, NASA faked it. This conspiracy theory is a part of our recent collective memory, so it’s familiar, and funny.

Graphic copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossen - the truth is out thereTelevision shows like The X-Files entertain the world with conspiracy theories every week, even in rerun. What better story-telling device than an ongoing conspiracy which involves governments and aliens. A very popular conspiracy theory movie and book, The Da Vinci Code, continues to incite the imagination with “what if” mixed with “hey, it’s possible”.

Bloggers are not exempt from the need to take two or more disparate facts and bang the drums of conspiracy in order to attract attention to their blogs.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover some examples of some conspiracy theories and why we are so fascinated by them, then later, I’ll cover the economics of conspiracies, how blogs use conspiracies as part of their blogging purpose, and finish with tips on how to write your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

Article Series on Conspiracy Theories and Blogs

Google And Linking

There are so many things that people don’t realize about Google, and its ranking strategies, but recently it seems that Google has decided that they have to control how, who and when we link to other people.

Heading up Google’s Webspam team, you have to wonder is Matt Cutts the link nazi? These are the people deciding who and how we are allowed to link people. Do we need to “no-follow” every link other than those we implicitly trust? What sort of rules to we have to follow to be ranked well by Google, and not be flagged by the web spam team.

As a blogger, do you worry about being flagged by Google or do you just keep blogging the way you always have?