I was a bit concerned about the group tarring and feathering of koolaidguy by Digg.com users a couple of weeks ago, but in the end I concluded that koolaidguy probably was a spammer. However the groupthink of Digg users continues to concern me, because today they're attacking an O'Reilly writer named Steve Mallett. In an entry entitled O'Reilly writer Steve Mallett has stolen digg's code, there are already currently 327 comments after just 3 hours. Most of the comments accuse Mr Mallett of theft, but a small proportion say that he stole nothing. This comment is indicative of the latter view:
"Looks to me like he did nothing more than download the source from: http://meneame.net/archives/meneame-src.tgz (in case you missed the story posted a few weeks ago... http://digg.com/programming/How_to_install_open_Source
What worries me is the personal attacks on Mr Mallett on what seems (to me) to be pretty flimsy evidence. [I should note at this point the disclaimer that I'm writing a book for O'Reilly, but I don't know Mr Mallett]. The original article is on a blogspot blog named http://steveisbad.blogspot.com/ and needless to say the blog writer is anonymous. The entry states:
"Digg should sue the shit out of this guy! This is just sad, especially from a O’Reilly writer. But wait, there is more. Not only is he steal digg code, he is also spamming his sites on digg [...] Please post in the digg comments that you confirm this before he changes his CSS, clearly he is a digg user."
The comments in the Digg thread include gems like this:
"haha he's going to be in trouble!
wow this article has over 2000 diggs and over 300 comments
probably the biggest one of 2006 yet!"
And of course someone has already created a Wikipedia page about the issue:
"i just finished the steve malletts page on wikipedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_mallett"
Said Wikipedia page currently has this message:
Now... maybe I'm being alarmist here, but it worries me that a person's reputation can be so quickly attacked on sites like Digg - and Wikipedia for that matter, although at least they have warning messages. Especially when the attacks are personal and made by anonymous cowards, at which point they cross a line for me. I'm not sure if I'd make it a federal crime, but still it is cowardly and too close to a mob mentality for my comfort.
I've said before that I like Digg, but this kind of thing makes me sick - to be totally frank.
Update: O'Reilly Radar blog responds with a less emotional post than mine, entitled Digging The Madness of Crowds. The Digg users have linked to O'Reilly's response and thankfully it too has made the front page of Digg.
Update 2: Steve Mallett himself has posted a considered response.