Kill the Gatekeepers

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DIGG THIS

Sharp-eyed readers of LewRockwell.com may have noticed the recent addition of “DIGG THIS” links at the top of each article. These links make it easy for registered users of the news site Digg.com to submit the article to Digg or vote for it if it has already been submitted.

I’m going to explain to you why you should care about Digg, what it is and how it works. I’ll end with a brief analysis of what the creators of Digg mean by calling it “democratic” and what, if anything, that has to do with political democracy. (Already know and love Digg? Click here to skip to the political analysis.)

Why Should I Care About Digg?

Digg is the 23rd most popular web site in the U.S. according to Alexa. The New York Times web site is at 19th place on that same list. (Both numbers are as of August 6, 2006). The trend points to digg.com surpassing nytimes.com any time now. Digg was also recently profiled in a cover article for BusinessWeek. Keep in mind that this is a web site that was launched on Dec. 5, 2004. It hasn’t even celebrated its 2nd birthday yet.

Furthermore, Digg is a different way of doing news, as I’ll explain below. The bottom line of why you should care about this is that Digg does away with the “gatekeepers” that keep the mainstream media hewing closely to an Establishment line. Libertarians have not fared particularly well under the rule of the gatekeepers. With this new kind of media there is an opportunity for libertarians to have a real seat at the table. I say, kill the gatekeepers!

What is Digg?

Digg.com is a news site. If you go there you see story headlines with brief summaries under each headline. If you click on a headline you’ll go to another site where the item actually resides. That site might be nytimes.com or cnn.com, but it is just as likely to be someone’s personal Blog or a video on YouTube.

Next to the headline you’ll see a yellow box that says something like “849 diggs." This tells you how many people voted for (“dugg”) the article. Digg.com doesn’t have any content itself, it just points to other places for content. It doesn’t have any editors on staff, the “editors” are the users of Digg who vote for stories they like. Digg doesn’t have any reporters on staff, instead the users submit stories they think are interesting.

In the year and a half it has been around, Digg has grown at a phenomenal rate with around a million unique users visiting it each day and over 400,000 registered users who can submit and digg stories. Particularly amazing is that most of this growth occurred while Digg only allowed Technology stories. It is just since the recent release of Digg v3 that non-Technology topics were added including Business & Finance, Political News, Political Opinion and World News that are appropriate topics for many libertarian articles.

How Does Digg Work?

Digg works like this. You submit a story and it goes into the Upcoming Stories queue. Other Digg users sift through these submissions (thousands a day) looking for gold among the dross. When they spot something that looks good, they “digg” the story. If they spot something that looks like spam or otherwise looks like junk they “bury” the story.

If the story receives enough diggs fast enough then the story gets “promoted” to the Popular Stories which is what most Digg readers look at. A story that gets promoted might be read by thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of readers. Alternatively if 24 hours pass or enough Diggers bury the story then the story loses its chance to be promoted.

On Digg, stories get promoted because the submitter writes a good title and summary that catches people’s interest and points to a story with good content.

Libertarian Diggers

I would like to see you, the intrepid LewRockwell.com reader, get involved with Digg for two reasons. First, it really is a great site. Once you’ve used it a bit I think you’ll understand why it has grown so fast in popularity. The staff of Digg.com doesn’t stop a story from getting to the front page because it is politically incorrect or weird. In fact, part of the fascination of Digg is to see what stories will be dugg to the top next. There’s a sense of spontaneity, of freedom from the dead weight of respectable Establishment opinion that is exhilarating. It is a natural place for libertarians.

A second reason for getting involved is to have an influence on the content of Digg. Imagine if you could spend a few minutes each day (along with other libertarians) and see excellent libertarian articles featured in the New York Times. That isn’t very likely to happen, but you can submit and vote for libertarian articles on Digg and see them make it to the “front page." In fact, some of us have already been doing it.

Since these new political topics recently became available quite a few free market articles from the Mises Institute and libertarian stories from LewRockwell.com have already been promoted to the front-page of Digg. The new “DIGG THIS” links on LewRockwell.com articles make it even easier to promote articles from this site. If you click a “DIGG THIS” link, and you’re a registered Digg user, then you will either be sent to the form for submitting the story or, if someone else already submitted it, you’ll be able to digg it.

Digg Democracy vs. Political Democracy

“…users like Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit and Flickr because they are contributing to true, free, democratic social platforms devoid of monetary motivations. All users on these sites are treated equally, there aren’t anchors, navigators, explorers, opera-ers, or editors.” —Kevin Rose, founder of Digg.com

“For the sake of our long-term security, all free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.” —George W. Bush, U.S. President

What does Kevin Rose of Digg.com mean by “democracy”? What, if anything, does it have to do with President Bush’s notion of democracy? Is Digg democratic like the Unites States is democratic?

At the most basic level, Rose talks about his news site as democratic because the decision about what news stories make it to the front page of Digg are made by the users of Digg, not by editors.

If Digg, then, is like a democracy because it is “editing by many” then, I suppose, traditional news media are like monarchies “rule by one editor-in-chief” or oligarchies “rule by editors."

What about the similarity between Digg democracy and U.S. government democracy? In both there is voting. The similarity pretty much stops there.

To make the point, let’s imagine that Digg were run like the Federal government. Instead of users directly submitting and digging stories, they would digg for representatives every several years. Those representatives would then submit and digg stories. Furthermore each of these representatives would represent around half a million people.

You can imagine the results. Many stories would be featured because those representatives were in some way paid off by folks who wanted to see their stories on the front page. The relationship of the featured stories to what stories would have been featured if voters were able to directly vote on the stories would be tenuous at best. In particular, only large groupings of voters would have any influence. The interests of smaller or dispersed groups would tend to be ignored. Stories critical of the regime would never make it to the front page of course. Finally, we would all be forced to read the front-page stories or be faced with fines, imprisonment or even execution.

So there are really two major differences between Digg democracy and U.S. democracy. The first is that Digg is a direct democracy and the U.S. Federal Government is a representative democracy. Secondly, Digg is a voluntary democracy whereas the government is a coercive (state) democracy.

Let’s clarify the issue with a Walter Block style 2×2 grid (pdf, see p. 70):

Types of Democracy

Representative

Direct

Coercive

U.S. Government

Swiss Government

Voluntary

Neighborhood Association(?)

Digg.com

Would our government really be improved if it functioned as a massive direct democracy like Digg? Leftists seem to think so and are often very concerned with the issue of how directly the government expresses the “will of the people." What seems to frighten leftists the most is that laws would be influenced by corporations or other non-popular entities.

For the libertarian, though, the argument between representative democracy and direct democracy misses the more important issue. Whether representative or direct, both are political democracies, which forcibly eliminate the option to exit altogether as opposed to voluntary democracies, which allow you to freely choose to participate, or not.

Libertarians find the most important distinction to be whether something is coercive or voluntary. Let’s say that the U.S. Government became more like Digg in terms of the directness of democracy. For example, laws could be submitted by anyone, enough votes would get a law up for general consideration and then everyone would directly vote up or down on the law.

As interesting as this might be, this would not address the core issue. However they got voted in, the laws would still apply to everyone, whether they had voted for them or not, whether they even support the existence of the state or not.

The ultimate libertarian solution to political organization would dispense with coercion altogether. The rules of a neighborhood would only be what the property owners of the community wanted them to be. There would be no “taxes," only purchase of property (possibly with certain restrictions on the use of that property), goods or services that individuals “dugg."

When President Bush talks about spreading democracy he isn’t talking about Digg democracy, where people can vote every day or even every minute for the things they want and are free to simply ignore the results altogether if they choose. He is talking about political democracy where, let’s be frank, a pretense of “we’re ruling ourselves” is used as a cover for the ruling class to steal, tyrannize and start wars just as they always do.

What we get a tantalizing taste of with Digg might properly be called “participatory democracy” in the political sphere. While participatory democracy is a notion generally associated with the Left, Rothbard endorsed the concept as libertarian, properly understood:

In the broadest sense, the idea of “participatory democracy” is profoundly individualist and libertarian: for it means that each individual, even the poorest and the most humble, should have the right to full control over the decisions that affect his own life.

In a Digg Democracy anyone who doesn’t like what others have “dugg” may avoid spending his or her money on it, joining it or being governed by it. And, ultimately, may retreat to their own property unmolested. Other people’s “political” choices would be a matter of opportunity instead of fear, like the top stories on Digg. If you didn’t like the rules someone else established, you would simply not take part in their community. This is quite different from the laws voted on by political representatives which follow us into our homes whether we like them or not, in fact even if we think the laws are immoral and unjust.

Stephen W.
Carson [send him mail]
works
as a software engineer, occasionally writes about political economy
and is the proud father of three children. See his reviews of Films
on Liberty and the State
. More articles are available at his Web
Site
. He blogs at Radical Liberation.

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