Conclusion: final thoughts
Erowid meets J676: Digital Media Law and Ethics
Marketplace of Ideas: In my last post, I explained how erowid.org is legal and ethical. The question of the site’s content also falls under the protection of the marketplace of ideas by being unbiased and presenting information that highlights both positive and negative aspects of psychoactive drugs. Supporters of the marketplace of ideas would support Erowid’s extensive archive on psychoactive drugs. The site does not encourage drug use nor does it discourage. The choice is up to the observer, and here Erowid is partaking in the marketplace of ideas. However, there is a review process for the content on the site, and not everything that is submitted for review is published. And while this is to protect site visitors from receiving dangerously incorrect information, proponents of the marketplace of ideas would not agree and could argue that the site, then, is not fully participating in the marketplace, thus restricting others ability to participate as well.
Anonymity: On a site like Erowid, most everyone practices some sort of anonymity or uses a pseudonym. However, within the community of Erowid, I do not feel that anonymity presents an issue. The people whose reports are published all have online screen names, but they cannot be contacted and their work is always reviewed prior to publishing. The submitters do not have much control of their own work once submitted and any issue would be directed to the reviewers. The reviewers are usually volunteers, but the posting happens by a member of the senior staff. There is only one email address to use when contacting the crew, but they respond quickly and thoroughly while still keeping their online names. I do not feel there is an issue with anonymity and false identity here because the people behind the names hold themselves accountable for the site content. And some of the names are not fake at all.
Accountability as publisher: While Erowid does indeed publish things that could cause harm if used incorrectly and could be blamed (or maybe tried to be charged) for endangering lives through the information on the site, the creators include a disclaimer on their site, wiping them clean of all accountability to unethical or dangerous action taken with the information provided on erowid.org.
When I was assigned this project, I had no clue what I was supposed to be doing nor how to really approach tackling the assignment. In theory it sounded like a fun and interesting project, but one unlike I had ever done before, and I knew it would be a lot of work. I began researching tentatively, looking at the site here and there, trying to find some sort of issue to look into, some way to ask interesting and engaging questions to the members of the Erowid community. At first I thought I would be researching the people who submitted to the site, but that proved impossible to do. I took some time to create a survey to help spark ideas, and I started this blog, hoping that if I jumped right in, the ideas would flow. And not only did the ideas flow, but my first survey had 20 respondents in the first day and the crewmembers of Erowid answered my first email within hours that I sent it. I could not have been more excited at the sudden ease of the project.
It has been a fun journey getting to know the senior staff members of Erowid. Their different personalities shown through their answers to my questions, and I also observed the comfort level they felt in adding to and correcting people’s answers when they re-read all the responses. The community was receptive to my questions and answered them in much more depth than I had ever anticipated. I am happy with my Erowid ethnography, and I am confident that my conclusions about the care and devotion the community of Erowid puts into creating the site proves that it is a well-researched, reliable, legal and ethical site devoted to “documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives.”
Have you learned something new or have something to add? Post a comment below!