The buzz around the tech blogosphere the past few days has been related to the blow-up on Digg. If you haven’t heard about it, then you have been living under a rock. For those that like to seek shelter under various stones I will provide you with a quick overview. Chester Millisock, an avid Digg user, dugg an article that published the HD-DVD processing key that you can use to decrypt and play most HD-DVD movies in Linux. Soon after it was published, Digg received a cease and desist notice from the owners of the intellectual property and they complied. What ensued was a chaotic response by the Digg community. Suddenly Digg was swamped with more articles that posted the HD-DVD processing key then they could bury. There was no way to stop it. The result? Digg caved in and Kevin Rose posted the following statement:

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

At least we died trying? That sounds a little ridiculous to me. The real problem is that beyond a certain point, social networks become controlled by the users rather than the moderators. Without a highly automated moderating system, there is no chance that a site can effectively monitor everything being posted with its community.

I’ve witnessed the problem first hand at the first startup that I worked for. After coming into work one day, I learned about a community participant that was harassing others. A few members of the community felt threatened and communicated their problem to us. The member did cross the line, and he was effectively banned. At the time, that community contained under 10,000 users. I can’t imagine trying to control a community of millions. Think of the troubles that MySpace faces, especially when it comes to pedophilia. The future of social networks is effective automated monitoring programs that don’t limit people’s freedom of speech.

In this case, I don’t think Digg should have buried the article. There’s no point. If Digg is at risk of being sued, then Google should be at risk also. Try googling “hd-dvd processing key”. Hundreds of thousands of pages show up, many of which include the key in the title or body of the page. The bottom line is that there will always be hackers and crackers that try to break protections, and they will also post their results on the web. This is a fact of life. Let alone, how many people really know what to do with the HD-DVD processing key anyways? There will be a continuing struggle between industry and the social web, this is just another case study in the relationship between the two.