More than 1.4 million teachers and students have created Web pages through Edublogs, a blogging platform powered by WordPress. Last week, all of those pages went dark, thanks to a host company's overeager response to a takedown notice.
The trouble apparently began when the publisher Pearson discovered that a teacher on Edublogs had posted a copy of the Beck Hopelessness Scale -- a clinical assessment tool developed by the psychiatrist Aaron Beck in order to evaluate people suffering from depression. The scale -- which consists of 20 true-false statements like "My future seems dark to me" -- is now part of Pearson's portfolio of clinical assessment tests. The company licenses the tool for $120.
Nonetheless, a teacher who blogs at Edublogs posted a copy of the test for his class in 2007. Pearson must have learned of the post recently, because around two weeks ago the company sent a takedown notice to ServerBeach, which hosts Edublogs. ServerBeach supposedly forwarded the message to Edublogs at the beginning of the month, but it was never received. Last week ServerBeach sent a second notice to Edublogs -- and then took down all 1.4 million-plus blogs 12 hours later.
Not surprisingly, that prompted a flurry of activity -- as well as some critical commentary. As of today, the dispute seems to have gotten straightened out; the blogs are back online, in any event.
But the incident highlights, once again, just how dependent online content is on host companies and other intermediaries who can, with one ill-considered decision, censor millions of voices.