Justin Elliott has an interesting post up at Salon today. It concerns “The Freedom Community,” a secret e-mail list made up of conservative journalists and policy-types. I can’t say much more about the list itself, because it’s secret. Its very existence has been scrubbed from Google-Groups since he contacted one of its participants with questions.
I’ve written about these Google-Group listservs* before, particularly surrounding the 2010 JournoList/Weigelgate controversy. These e-mail lists make up a hidden network architecture for the progressive netroots. There are (probably) thousands of them. They can be set up (and taken down) within minutes, and Google’s architecture makes them technically impossible to taxonomize. They’re useful for promoting discussion and debate amongst clusters of networked individuals — people who work on the same thing or have similar interests, but aren’t working for the same organization or based in the same location. Think of them as watering hole conversations, but digital and more diffuse.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with network backchannels. They’re a useful and utterly sensible tool. But one of the interesting things in the JournoList controversy was that conservative activists elevated them to full-fledged Boogeyman status. The claim was repeatedly asserted that (1) this was proof of a “liberal media conspiracy” and (2) that no such lists exist on the Right.
I took on the first assertion in a paper for the 2010 APSA Annual Meeting, “Beyond Citizen Journalism: Weigelgate, Journolist, and America’s Shifting Media Ecology.” It’s a silly and outlandlish argument (it persists on Tucker Carlson’s site, the Daily Caller. That says more about Carlson than it does about the assertion, though).
The second assertion always struck me as unlikely. “Really, there are no conservative Google-Groups?” Why the hell wouldn’t there be? They’re easy-to-create, pretty useful, and occasionally fun, after all. But since they’re technically impossible to find (you don’t know about them unless they’re “leaked” or you’re invited to join), it wasn’t an assertion I could directly disprove through research.
Well, here’s the proof. The Freedom Community is a network backchannel. Apparently its a pretty secretive one (not surprising, given how conservative activists demonized Journolist). That’s their choice, and I’ll go on record saying that its unlikely its being used for any genuine conspiracies. But anyone keeping score ought to take note: the Right uses these same Network Backchannels. They just stay quieter about them.
*Interesting lesson from my copy-editor: Google-Groups apparently aren’t listservs. In fact, listservs aren’t listservs. LISTSERV is a registered trademark, and has been since 1986. I’m baffled by this little factoid. It’s on a level with “Happy Birthday” being litigiously copyright-protected.