The Great Finnish Beer Floating Tradition and the Digital Crime that Enabled it

Can I allow people to plan illegal actions in my blog? Could I be accused of organizing the action? Is the site owner responsible for whatever people plan or say within website? These are few of the many ethical questions of digital age. Here's one example.

There is a curious unofficial festival every summer in Vantaa, Finland. In Finnish it is called Kaljakellunta - "Beer Floating" It is about people drinking beer while floating down the river on various kinds of crafts such as rafts, small boats, inner tube tires and even sofas. As a YouTube user described it, it is "funny and idiotic at the same time."

According to Wikipedia the tradition was started by a dozed young Finns in 1997, and since then the number of floating Finns has doubled every year since. In 2000, a special Internet site was established for the Float but in 2005 the original innovators withdraw from organizing the event because of the littering problem caused by too many beer-drinkers on the river.

In 2007 almost 400 floaters took part in the festivities and although no accidents have ever occurred the authorities have been concerned about the security as well as the amount of littering. For the 2008 event over 1200 Facebook users had registered as participants to Beer Floating although there were rumors about the event being cancelled. The authorities had asked the Internet site to be closed before the event and suggested that people stay away from the festivities. This didn't stop committed beer-drinkers from floating down the river once more.

Last summer the festival was arranged again, without the designated Internet site. This was enough for the authorities. According to Helsingin Sanomat the Vantaa District Court is about decide on whether or not the website owners could be held responsible for breaking the law concerning public meetings. They have not informed the police about the event, which would not get permission from police anyway.

The prosecutor sees that the two men who used to operate the Internet site on which Beer Floating was discussed and planned should be charged. According to the accused no-one had ever actually organized the Beer Floating but participants had found their way to the event through informal channels and many different Internet forums including theirs.

This ethical problem seems to have something in common with the Pirate Bay case (see my earlier post). Should the domain owner be held responsible of actions or discussion that might lead to unlawful action outside of the site? If, for example, two commentors of my blog would discuss where and when to steal a bike or go shop-lifting, should I be held responsible? Maybe not but what if my blog was built for that particular purpose - to have people plan their illegal actions?

Whatever the "right" answer is, it is surely floating on the intersection of the always fluid mainstream and cross-currents that define our values. Perhaps right and wrong, lawfulness, responsibility and moral become even more contested and negotiated when they are faced with the new digital world where the norms of the analogue are not always directly applicable. I don't envy the law-makers.

Pics from article titled Kaljakellunta also known as Beer Floating.
See also Demonstration for the Beer Floating in Facebook (in Finnish) and Beer Floating clip in YouTube (and another one by Luomu Vision).

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