I avoid issues — topics, movies, or even software sometimes — that reach a certain, high-pitched whine of popularity, mostly because anything I say about them is going to repeat something already said. There’s already too much low-quality, self-indulgent jaw-flapping on the Internet, and my addition serves nothing.
Occasionally however I feel like I need to touch on a topic because my perspective seems contradictory to that high-pitched whine. When I am among a minority, in other words.
That seems to be the case regarding the clatter that surrounds the HeliOS blog entry from a few days ago, where an e-mail sent from a teacher to the author of the blog derided Linux and threatened legal action. You can read the entire drama here; I really don’t want to waste my time repeating it.
So what, you say? So … what proof have you seen that the e-mail acutally happened? Or for that matter, the follow-up phone call? I’ve been a secondary school teacher, and believe you me, most teachers don’t have enough spare time to dash off e-mails threatening legal action. Schools have other ways of dealing with quasi-legal issues.
But beyond that, it’s just a little too convenient. There’s a surprising level of misinformation in the e-mail, presenting a level of ignorance that is almost comical. And the turnaround — or “conversion,” to use a theological term, since the tone of responses smacks of zealotry — takes place within days of the original event. Now the teacher is supposedly having Linux installed on a machine, if I understand it right. Again, how convenient. No identity? A tearful, unsubstantiated phone call? There’s just too much that happens too easily, and all of it makes the author look like a Linux hero.
Just to be clear, I’m not calling for the teacher’s name. That would be bad. And if the entire fiasco isn’t a hoax, if it does actually turn out to be true, then concealing the teacher’s name is the right thing to do. But the fact that there’s been no third-party corroboration of the story is a little suspicious.
This is the Internet, people. Bloggers are not journalists. Find me a real journalist, one with even a teeny bit of credibility, have them certify that the e-mail and the phone call actually happened, and acknowledge publicly that it’s true. Again, no need for names; just check and confirm. That’s all. It’s something that is regularly done in newsrooms — it’s called “confirming a source.” I’ve done this many times myself, and for the same reasons.
And yes, it is something you should do, all the time, every day, any time you read or hear or see something online. In the “information age,” the accuracy and reliability of your information is critical.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal, if it were not for two things. First, there’s the Tux500 hornswaggle from a year ago, which you can see a somewhat complex summary of here. If the HeliOS site hadn’t been so prominently involved in that, I might not be so skeptical. These days I still read the HeliOS blog, but most of the things I read there I take with a grain of salt.
And that’s the second thing: As I understand it, the blog represents the project, and the project solicits funds through the blog. In other words, there’s a big “Donate here” button on the left side of the page — Visa and MasterCard accepted. A sensationalist post means more traffic, more traffic means more clickthroughs, and even if only one person out of a hundred sends $10 their way, then a few thousand page hits means a lot.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not speaking down to the HeliOS project. I’ve done something similar in the past, albeit on a much smaller scale. But bolstering the coffers by drawing traffic is the nature of our online existence. And if one rather scathing post gleans a few more donations. … Well, that’s probably enough said.
I love Linux just as much as the next person. And I root for my Linux heroes just as loudly as the next person. But in a situation where an unsubstantiated e-mail is leading to threats and harassment — and the derision of an entire profession — then I need to see more proof. I’m just not convinced by what’s out there now.
P.S.: tl;dr … Show me the code.