When there is widespread stereotyping about something in the society, we inadvertently fall prey to it even without knowing ourselves. Some are liberal enough to accept their mistakes and prompt to correct them; others remain clung to their own misconceptions.
Current issue is the “ethical” URL shortener is.gd and one such misconception in its ethical policy that I noticed a few days ago. Is.gd is one of the leading service in URL shortening. It is created by Richard West, a freelance developer and technologist. I am a long-time fan of this service for their simplicity, and just for their look. But a few days ago, I found something in their policy that upset me. It read:
Many short domains used by URL shorteners are owned by nations under Islamic law which don’t enjoy the same freedoms we do in the West.
I found this sentence very much objectionable. I felt somehow it implies that Islamic countries do not provide freedom of speech and also that freedom is predominantly a Western concept. But what could I do? I just stopped using is.gd and instead started using bit.ly, which is owned by Libyan domain, an Islamic country, just as a gesture of protest, self-sufficient to myself. But firstly, I didn’t like the feel of bit.ly, and again I thought it won’t solve the problem. I really loved is.gd and I felt I should try telling them about this glitch. Their site noted that the mails are replied personally by Richard, so I thought to give it a try. I mailed Richard this morning:
I love is.gd URLs. I use is.gd as my URL shortener of choice for 90% of time (and wp.me for the rest). My eyes are used to that is.gd in my short URLs and all other short URLs seem absurd to me. Among others, I love the lower-case pronounceable feature of your URLs. I am an esteemed user of is.gd and recommend my friends to use it over the others services available. Indeed, yours is a brand on the internet that is close to my heart.
But this is not the reason of my writing this mail to you. A couple of days ago, while reading is.gd ethics, I found something that goes against my own ethics. It shook the very base of my love for is.gd. While comparing is.gd to other services, you have noted “many short domains used by URL shorteners are owned by nations under Islamic law which don’t enjoy the same freedoms we do in the West.” I found this sentence very objectionable. I know you were referring to the domain .ly, especially bit.ly, that uses the top-level domain for Libya. I know conditions are tough there in Libya. I certainly understand your concern, but I find it totally unnecessary to note that these domains are owned by nations under “Islamic law” who don’t enjoy the same freedom as you enjoy “in the West.”
If you wanted to point out .ly domain for Libya, you should have said such directly, or at least you could have used some other term as Arabic countries, military states, etc., but using the term “Islamic” was completely unnecessary and kind of derogatory implying Islam don’t offer freedom. Moreover, I was not amused with the use phrase “in the West” for the freedom you enjoy. I am an Indian, I live in the East, and our constitution have provided us with as much freedom of expression as you have in the West. I don’t think we should see freedom of speech as a completely Western concept. West is not only the Europe or the United Kingdom. For us, even the historical East Germany was in the West, so freedom of speech has nothing to do with being East or West, nor it has to do something with being a Muslim or Christian or a Hindu.
I hope you won’t take my mail as an offence. I just pointed out what I felt. I had stopped using is.gd for the last couple of days because of this and went to bit.ly, not because I like bit.ly, but just as a protest of that sentence in your ethics policy. But frankly, I didn’t find myself at home there. I didn’t like the look of bit.ly in my timeline instead of is.gd, and most importantly, I missed the “Mmmm, tasty URLs!” part there. So I am back to is.gd hoping that you would understand my concern, take it in good faith, and do whatever you find necessary to avoid hurting someone’s feelings inadvertently.
Expecting good faith from you!
And surprise, I got a reply personally from Richard in just a couple of hours. He was quick to accept the error and to correct it. In fact, he had corrected it even before sending the reply. Here is what he replied:
Thanks for your comments, I appreciate you taking the time to let me know your views. Rereading it, I agree that paragraph was written slightly insensitively, so have made some changes to it.
I certainly didn’t mean to imply that all Islamic nations were somehow not free, this was a poor choice of wording. Although some regimes certainly do restrict free speech and oppress groups such as women and homosexuals in the name of Islam, I don’t mean to tar all Muslims with the same brush. Like any other religion there are many different interpretations of it, and there are unquestionably lots of developed and free Islamic countries.
When I said “in the West”, it wasn’t really a geographic statement – I meant it as an expression referring to all developed nations. It’s certainly an outdated expression and probably hasn’t really made sense for over 100 years, so I’ve changed that as well to avoid any confusion!
Later I thanked him for his quick reply and asked him if I can publish about it on The Blog of Reflection, and he was okay with it. In a short note, I had also wrote him about the site looking a bit more broader on mobile browsers and he quickly corrected that bug.
Here is the previous version of is.gd ethics that I had noted at archives.org. Here is the current version corrected by Richard. Indeed, the error was unintentional and was a result of widespread misconceptions worldwide, but isn’t it great of is.gd’s part to accept it and correct it?