To me, the moral imperative of the Hellmouth series has always been simple: get these stories out to a wider audience. That's what they were sent.
There are countless victims of a tragedy like Columbine. First, and certainly foremost, there were the 12 kids and a teacher who were slain. Secondly, there were the two emotionally disturbed kids who killed them, and then took their own lives. And finally, there were the many thousands of individualistic, interesting and sometimes-alienated kids who have suffered from the post-Columbine hysteria.
Their stories are familiar to anyone who read the Hellmouth series, or who has been following the epidemic of suspensions, expulsions, arrests, forced counseling sessions, social abuse and suspicion, and nightmare creations like Pinkerton's "WAVE America" program, an anonymous hotline on which kids are encouraged to turn in peers they consider dangerous or violent.
In the days after Columbine, many of those new victims sent messages to Slashdot, in the hopes of finding an outlet for their experiences -- since schools, the media and politicians were giving them no voice. We can't count exactly how many messages were sent this way, some posted here, others e-mailed directly to me, while many messagers were unable to get onto the site. But my best guess is close to 20,000.
In a handful of cases, posters asked for anonymity, or that their messages not ever be passed along. Those requests were, of course, honored. But as perhaps the only person who read all the messages, that got through, and that I received, I am confident about their spirit and intent, both literally and figuratively. Those people wanted to get their stories out. They sent their messages in the hopes of reaching beyond their own lives and schools and into mainstream media, educational and political circles. The Hellmouth posts are unique. They belong in the public domain. In fact, they cry out to be there.
The overwhelming majority of these kids and adults came from outside of the Slashdot community. They perceived Slashdot as a place where messages get out, where they could speak freely, where information is shared and distributed. They asked that I do everything possible to see that their words and perspectives and pleas and stories reach journalists, educators and parents. None of them were particularly aware of or interested in the many internicine issues and conflicts that characterize a site like this. They were not conventional posters to Slashdot's Threads.
So I have worked to be faithful to those requests. In these kid's lives, a year is a long, sometimes painful time. Lots of these kids have stayed in touch. Many have moved, gone on to college, switched computers or ISP's, changed their technological lives or personal interests. Many, of course, were young, complicating the posting issues still further.
Although I didn't select the messages in this about-to-be published collection, (Since I am legally under contract to another book publisher, I couldn't directly participate in the production of the book, and I also thought it would be better to have a more detached eye) I've read them. The selections were brilliant. They are the right ones, and they are powerful.
My belief and recommendation was this: the safest, fairest and most effective way to deal with publishing excerpts from the outpouring was to select the most powerful and universal posts, strip them of identifying name or e-mail addresses (some of them are young, some messages to them might be intercepted by parents or siblings, and the Net can be hostile) and publish the strongest, most representative excerpts. To do anything else, in my opinion, would be arbitrary and unfair, because:
- Messages shouldn't be excluded just because the posters were young, or had moved or switched ISP's.
-Messages should be chosen for their content, not availability.
Inclusion in the book shouldn't be part of a negotiating process, but on the basis of merit.
-All of the posted messages -- including some e-mailed to me -- were clearly sent with the intent of being seen. People wanted to have some impact on the post-Columbine hysteria.
Many people in this community have raised all sorts of questions about my motives (the accusations included profiteering, self-promotion, exploitation, opportunism, among others), and about idea ownership, and some proprietary questions about including posts. Many of these concerns are perfectly valid, others ironically coming from people who routinely download music, videos, software and other information and pass along opinions, columns and stories without a second thought, or even as a matter or principle.
Fact is, I've never been prouder to have my name on any book. I hope it's published in a timely fashion. I hope it's supported and widely read.
One of the problems with the eruption of hate-mail Friday (I define hate mail as a message with the word "hate" in it, or a message sent for the sole purpose of personal attack or injury) is that it often obscures genuine issues, and the posts that raised intelligent and important questions. That was the case in the response following the announcement that "Voices From The Hellmouth" was going to be published.
These issues, while valid, raise the risk of obscuring the point: The Hellmouth messages urgently need to be disseminated; they deserve to be heard. Don't do to these kids what so many journalists, administrators, parents and others have done -- shut them up.
Where possible, it's perfectly valid to try to reach individuals and get their permission -- believe me, that will not be a problem. In every case, e-mail addresses should be stripped and only the poster's initials used. But messages ought not be kept from the book simply because a poster was unreachable. These messages are the right ones.
That unrelated issues ought not delay the publication of the book by a single day, or result in the deletion of any valid message. Nor should they divert attention from what the Hellmouth series is really about -- the very real persecution of kids who are individualistic, different, "non-normal," and who have been wrongly caught up in an ugly hysterical response to a tragic event. These voices should not be silenced, and certainly not here.
Addendum by Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda
I wanted to make a few points in addition to Jon's.
- A terrible thing happened a year ago. Then the world freaked out and caused even worse things to happen to even more people. Everyone involved in the production of this book felt that this would in some small way help. You're not obligated to buy, read, or even care about this book. But there are many people who hopefully will benefit from it.
- It was impractical, and in fact undesirable to contact and credit the vast number of contributors. Under other circumstances, it might have been different, but considering the subject matter, we felt that it was better done anonymously anyway. If we were publishing the 'Slashdot Readers Guide to Hacking C++' or something, much different criteria would have been used.
- We're donating any money to charity: we'll certainly entertain suggestions about which charity, and perhaps it'll be put to a Slashdot poll, all of that however was just a nice side benefit to a larger purpose. Accusations that this is a PR stunt were pretty hurtful. We honestly feel that this was above all else, a "Good Thing". Yes, we did it through a Andover, a corporate, "For Profit" entity, but that alone doesn't make turn this into an evil plot to take your money, and earn us fame. Turn the conspiracy theory down a notch and remember that Andover just a group of human beings with real feelings and everything. Several of them were very hurt that so many people reacted so angrily to something that we all felt was good.
- We're in the middle of a big server move. After that we'll hack a permission system to allow people to decide if their words are for Slashdot only, or may be redistributed if this ever comes up again. There are many good things in the comments worthy of wider audiences, and most readers don't have any problem with that, but the few (loud) people for whom this is a major stumbling block should most certainly be allowed to determine the destiny of their own words. It has been my intent to add this for months, but ideas are plentiful, while the time to code them isn't.
- It will be published electronically. It'll be run either on Slashdot, or it'll be in some downloadable format. Its just not out yet, so chill out for a few weeks ;)