Digg.com, the popular crowd-edited news aggregating site, has been the subject of online controversy as of late. Recently, a Digg user posted a story with a link to a site that contained a series of numbers. After receiving a record of more than 15,000 diggs, it was taken down. Why? Because the numbers were the proprietary key for HD-DVD encryption. With the key a knowledgeable nerd could do what so many knowledgeable nerds have already done with DVDs: copy it.
But what Digg did in taking down the story wasn’t censorship; it was an editorial decision by a private website. While Digg bases its success on crowd-sourcing the function of news editing, it does have the right to step in and take down other content. Digg’s managers can’t force anything off of another website, but their can surely take things down from their own.
Yet Digg has plenty of reasons not to censor information, namely Reddit, Furl, Yahoo, Google, and all the other sites clamoring for online attention. If Digg adopts policies that upset users and lose traffic for the site, they will suffer the financial consequences. The same is true for other news sources that try to exercise too much editorial control on their contributors. They can edit only as much as consumers will let them.
Only government can truly censor anything, but thanks to the Internet it’s becoming increasingly hard for even the most oppressive regimes to stop the flow of information. But Digg’s take-down is no great firewall, a quick search on any search engine for the key will easily return you the 16 hexadecimal digits. It’s now even available on a t-shirt.
The fallout from the Digg take-down shows that markets tolerate very little in the way of censorship — a much better system than government-imposed rules.