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The blogging service Blogetery was recently cut off from the Internet by its web hosting service. As a result, blog creators and readers lost access to an estimated 73,000 blogs. Why Blogetery was cut off from the Internet is not clear. The New York Times' Bits Blog originally reported that the cut off resulted from an FBI request, made after the FBI discovered links to Al Qaeda bomb-making instructions on one of the blogs on the Blogetery service. The web host, BurstNet, said that the FBI had been in contact, but that the cut off was a result of terms of service (TOS) violations. Regardless of why BurstNet decided to cut off Blogetery, the cut off illuminates weaknesses in the path between content creation and content publication and dangers in the way internet content is policed.
The path between content creation and content access can appear to move along one path, like a waterfall: have an idea, write it down, post it to your blog which is on a blogging service, which is hosted by a web hosting company and voila, content is accessible on the Internet! A waterfall has a source and a destination, but the points in between aren’t important in and of themselves. A more accurate picture of the process would resemble a tree, with many posts per blog, many blogs per blogging service and many services per web host, like the branches and leaves on a tree. When one decides to create content, the conception of the structure may not be important, but when content is taken down, the structure is incredibly important.
A waterfall conception of the route between an offending link and a web host obscures the importance of choosing a cut off point with care. A waterfall can be cut off at the top of the fall, just above the pool or anywhere in between, without changing the effect of the cut off. The Internet, as the Blogetery cut off illustrates, does not work like that, cutting off the entirety of Blogetery cut off access to thousands of innocuous blogs to get at a few posts.
As we increase our reliance on the Internet to provide content, to act as an archive of old content and to provide access to controversial content we have to be aware of the links in the chain between creation and publication of content and which links might be weak. If not, next time the content that is removed may be less along the lines of bomb-making instructions and may be more along the lines of the Pentagon Papers.