Free Speech and Consequences
Verizon cancels distribution deal with video-blogger Loren Feldman.
As I wrote last year when the same Feldman video became an issue for a conference I was helping to plan, "This is not a free-speech issue, this is a consequences of free speech issue."
I don't think the "TechNigga" video shows Feldman to be a racist, just a clumsy satirist who should have done his homework on black tech bloggers and thought more about the way his words would be perceived.
But he didn't, and the hard fact is that Google is forever and it does not always reveal context or allow for nuance and explanations. Ask the women hired by the John Edwards campaign, only to get whacked for remarks at their personal blogs.
The issue of what people say and show on their blogs and social-net sites will continue to haunt companies for a long time to come.
Dan Gillmor once wrote in a CIO Insight column that a college kid is posting something right now that would disqualify her from a lot of jobs today, but that the culture will change over time to accommodate the new ways of living out loud and on the record. Maybe, although mixing in a loaded issue like race complicates things further. (The animosity Feldman has accrued through his slash-and-burn style is another complicating factor.)
Verizon made a business decision that possible customer reactions to Feldman's work and judgment made him more of a liability than an asset.
If it was a First Amendment question, or a question of my personal taste for the outrageous, it would be an easy call in Feldman's favor, much as I disliked that video and some of his crueler personal attacks on people. The move makes Verizon look dumb for not vetting the guy in the first place, and weak for caving in at the first sign of protest, but that's how the game is played.
We did not uninvite Feldman from the ConvergeSouth conference, we asked him to move from a how-to session on video blogging -- which might easily have become a forum for discussing his controversial video -- to a session on controversy and consequences. I was disappointed that he declined.
I'd welcome him there this year if he wants to have that discussion.