Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Should IPs Lead in Curbing Internet Defamation?

A friend once said to me, “the internet is good for two things: slander and porn.” For those who have been the target of electronic harassment and bullying, that sentiment could not ring truer.
lies Pictures, Images and Photos

Too often, individuals and groups on the Internet abuse the free flow of thoughts that is the promise of the Web to turn around and attack or demean others. Oftentimes, those affected can do little to protect themselves, and find themselves on the short end of the stick.

Why does this occur? Simply put, the US has made it easy for ISPs to skirt any responsibility when it comes to what is posted on their servers. Thus some providers will turn a blind eye when a victim comes a-complaining.

It’s a shame. Take for example Google: they will only remove information when it contains personal or copyrighted data, but it is quite difficult to get them to act otherwise. While I can understand Google’s position not to get involved, in the same token most times its pretty easy to discern a malicious site from a legitimate one.

These sites will often abuse Google’s ranking algorithms to gain higher prominence in results — such as the good ‘ol Googlebomb — which is hit or miss as whether the search giant will deal with it.

Other ISPs will provide lip service to the fact that they’ll deal with this type of content, then dance around the fact when you contact them. I’ve had slanderous content written about me, and I’ve contacted the ISP whose servers hosted the content in an attempt to hold them to their policies.

What I found was a “pass the buck” mentality. This particular ISP said that since they were only leasing an IP from them, their terms of use did not apply. Strange: the traffic is still passing through you, so why would you not enforce your own policies?

Kind of like saying, “oh, this website that uses one of our IPs is a piracy site which we specifically prohibit, but we’ll let them go since they aren’t on one of our servers.” Yeah, I think the RIAA or MPAA would buy that one!

In the end, why are we so powerless against defamation in many cases? It’s all thanks to Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act, basically. That reads:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Essentially, ISPs don’t have to do anything, thanks to this clause. In our effort to protect the rights of everyone, we’re indirectly protecting hurtful speech as well. That’s just great.

Other countries have begun to clamp down on online defamation. For example, in Canada, the courts are now increasingly more apt to compel websites to reveal the identities of anonymous posters when defamation is involved.

These same countries are also beginning to force ISPs to identify who’s behind websites that are defamatory. While I am a strong supporter of staying anonymous in most cases (journalism depends heavily on those types of sources), when its for malicious purposes, you shouldn’t be getting any protection.

While I am not saying the ISP should tell the defamed who’s writing about them without the courts, the threat of disclosure may stop many from writing purposely hurtful missives about their victims.

Neither am I coming at this solely because this has happened to me. I’ve always been kind of disturbed by the fact that a lot of speech that people couldn’t get away with in real life seems to be free game on the Web. It doesn’t make sense.

It is a First Amendment right to be able to say what you want. So I can understand some people’s wariness of control over what people say. But can’t those of us who are subject to the malicious words of others get some relief?

What’s so wrong with dealing with stuff like this out of a court room, that’s what I want to know?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In a way, I'm glad they don't take sites down willy-nilly. I've been successful in using the web to expose someone who's a really bad guy.

The real problem is our criminal justice and court system. It's too expensive to get relief. My own experiences have made me believe that the bad guys are so adept at working the system that the good guys lose. It's terrible.

I was talking to a cop last night about this, and he said it's sad but true. Someone with no conscience can good destroy a reputation it took you a lifetime to build in about 10 minutes. He added that he believes that good eventually prevails over evil. Does it?