Internet BYTE8406 Syndrome

There’s an old jargon term called BYTE8406 syndrome, which has as one definition:
The tendency for oppression to waste resources. Derives from the observation that erasing a banned public file does not destroy the information, but merely creates an uncountable number of private copies. It was first diagnosed in September 1984, when the BYTE8406 forum was removed from the IBMPC Conference.
We’re seeing a worldwide example of this at the moment, with various Muslim protesters and even the cartoonists who drew them attempting to suppress publication of some cartoons that appeared in Jyllands-Posten, a newspaper in Jutland in Denmark.

One result has been copies of the cartoons have already appeared in other newspapers in multiple countries, plus a compendium of representations of Mohammed across the ages. On the Internet, the uncountable number of additional copies aren’t just private: many of them are public.

And they aren’t necessarily just of the items somebody wants to suppress; the Internet makes research and publication of related items easy. Further, active attempts at censorship can make the censoring organization look pretty bad.

This problem also occurs with corporations, as we’ve already pointed out in Vulnerability Restraints or Reputation Suicide? Trying to suppress information that is already on the Internet just leads to more copies of it appearing, including in geographical areas with inaccessible legal regimes. And actively supporting censorship by governments can escalate to political damage, as noted in U.S. Congress Members Decry Internet Censorship (in Other Countries).

There is a difference, in that corporations tend to use lawyers and technology, while some Muslim protesters are using megaphones, flag burnings, and embassy sackings. Even though the principle is the same, the difference in degree makes for a worse reaction.

Jyllands-Posten claimed to be publishing the cartoons to defend free speech, after an author of a children’s book about Mohammed complained that it was impossible to find illustrators. If that was really the purpose, Jyllands-Posten should have stuck to their position, instead of apologizing. They and so the many other publishers that have refused to republish the cartoons are making an exception for one religion that they don’t make for others. In the case of the newspaper France-Soir that fired its editor for republishing the cartoons, it didn’t happen to mention that one of its recent covers included a depiction of Mohammed. This is fear and hypocrisy masquerading as religious sensitivity. (Not that the original cartoons were all exactly sensitive; publishing a depiction of the prophet with a lit bomb in his turban and not expecting a strong reaction is naive at best.)

If it was, instead, a cheap publicity stunt, it’s now blown up into an international clash of freedom of speech vs. religious constraints, partly due to the international reach of the Internet.

As for the violent protesters, I wonder if they consider that they’re doing more to make Islam look bad than Jyllands-Posten ever could have done without them. Burning flags of a tiny tolerant country such as Denmark; very impressive. For that matter, I spend a lot of time telling people Islam is a religion of peace, with only a tiny minority of wingnuts, and you guys aren’t helping. Besides, in this example of the BYTE8406 Syndrome, not only are you causing still more copies of the cartoons in question to be published, but you’re making it much more likely that more new depictions you don’t like will be published.

Do the protesters know that many of them are reacting to additional cartoons (much worse than the originals) that somebody passed off as part of the same set? Where are the rational mullahs telling the protesters that they’re reacting to forgeries and in any case going too far and to back off?

I don’t see any mullahs saying that, but here’s something similar from the head of a political and social organization:

Taking this opportunity the Secretary General expresses his disapproval over these regrettable and deplorable incidents and reemphasizes that overreactions surpassing the limits of peaceful democratic acts for which he has been calling in his recent statements, are dangerous and detrimental to the efforts to defend the legitimate case of the Muslim World and portray the true image of Islam and Muslims in the international arena.

Press Release, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), 5 February 2006

(The OIC Sec.-Gen.’s previous notes on this subject indicate that he thinks the western press doesn’t publish things like that about other religions; apparently he doesn’t follow the western press much.) The Lebanese Prime Minister also made a statement against the violent protests. The British Prime Minister made a statement against them. At least somebody is talking sense.