No Section 230 Has Nothing To Do With Horrific NY Times Story Of Online Stalker Getting Revenge For Decades' Old Slight

from the that's-just-wrong dept

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend Kash Hill's incredible NY Times story about a clearly disturbed individual, who admits to "suffering from severe mental health illnesses," who filled the web with horribly defamatory information about a random guy and everyone in his family. It turned out that the reason appeared to be that nearly 30 years ago, the guy's father had fired the woman from her job in a real estate office. The story is all too familiar to anyone who has experienced harassment online. One of the tactics used was posting completely made up information on a variety of "gripe sites," many of which do very little moderation, or will only take down information if you pay. These sites often fill up with garbage, and certain people have learned to abuse those sites. Indeed, there seem to be a few people who regularly attack everyone they feel has wronged them using such sites.

The article focuses mainly on Ripoff Report, a site we've written about many times in the past, in part because of its various court cases that have often created good Section 230 law. That's not to say Ripoff Report is a good player in the space. Other stories have revealed some highly questionable behavior and the company's position regarding how it handles content moderation is one that I think is short sighted and extremely unhelpful. There are, also, other sites in the space with a wide variety of policies, some much better than Ripoff Report, some much worse.

The article does mention Section 230, and suggests that it is somehow to blame for the problems experienced by the victims of the person in the story. However, I am perplexed about why and what it has to do with this story in any way. The abuser is Canadian. Most of the woman's victims are from Canada and the UK, not the US. The woman doing the abuse was identified and sued for defamation, and a Canadian court deemed her a vexatious litigant and ordered her to stop attacking people online. When it continued, she was held in contempt of court and sentenced to prison.

And even the main site listed in the story, Ripoff Report, notes that it responded to lawyers from some of the victims and took down the stories at issue.

So, we're talking about a non-US abuser and non-US victims, and a US website that actually took down the content. It did take more time than they had hoped, but the system still did work.

Or, some might argue, the problem is Google, that shows these sites way up the listings on searches on your names. Except... that's not true either. As the article notes, Google has increasingly downranked these kinds of sites:

Now Google will remove other harmful content, including revenge porn and private medical information. At the end of 2019, it introduced a new category of information it will take out of your results: “sites with exploitative removal practices.” Google also started down-ranking some of the “complaint” sites, including Ripoff Report.

And yet, some people are running around saying that this article proves that Section 230 or anonymity is a problem. Except that in this case the abuser was not anonymous (or, at the very least, victims figured out who it was relatively quickly, and others seemed to know right away). Anonymity wasn't the issue here. And it's not clear how 230 was the problem either.

Heather Burns, from the Open Rights Group in the UK notes that the real lesson of this story is that so many other systems failed -- and people magically and wrongly expect intermediary liability laws to pick up and carry the weight of all those other failures:

That says:

My takeaway from this awful saga - and January, for that matter - is that intermediary liability law is now expected to carry the weight where social safety nets, mental health services, and criminal law enforcement have failed. That's not what it's for.

And that's exactly right. There are many large societal issues which need fixing in this world, including safety nets, mental health systems, both criminal and civil law procedures and enforcement. And if all those systems fail, blaming intermediary liability laws for not magically fixing them all seems incredibly misplaced. As for bad websites, there is no easy fix there, and changing Section 230 isn't going to fix any of it. As the article itself notes, after Ripoff Report did take down the defamatory posts, the abuser simply increased the posting to other sites and started attacking Ripoff Report too. This is a common practice. The abusive person clearly has mental health issues, and we should be focusing the blame on the system that failed her and her continued abuse -- not blaming the law in a different country because not every site deleted the content that she just kept posting anyway.

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Filed Under: defamation, gripe sites, section 230


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 12:25pm

    You miss their point.

    Of course intermediary liability will fix this problem.

    Make websites liable for anything they allow users to post, ergo no one is allowed to post anything, ergo I don't see bad stuff happen, ergo no bad things are happening in the world as far as I can see, ergo the whole world's problems are fixed!

    It's like magic, but hallucinatory.

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    • icon
      Vermont IP Lawyer (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 4:37pm

      Is it really binary?

      If the choice is between no intermediary liability ever and 100% intermediary liability always, I guess I might reluctantly choose the former. But I am not convinced there are no other choices.

      The NYTimes article (whose factual reciations I have not attempted to verify) says that the victims spent a lot of resources getting RipOffReport to take down the defamatory content. It also says that multiple other websites with overlapping business models refused to take down the content and asserted Sec. 230 as a defense. So, on one interpretation of this data, various bad actors (RipOffReport and its ilk) have profited at the expense of innocent victims, the extended Babcock family.

      Some commenters dismiss this as a non-issue by pointing out that the victims include Canadian citizens and that Sec. 230 is not a Canadian law. I don't follow that logic: the NYTimes article asserts that the Babcock family is spread across the U.K., Canada and the U.S. and that they have been defamed globally. If we assume (but I cannot prove) that some of the defamation comes from U.S. hosted websites,U.S. law is relevant and it is not constructive to note that some of the victims are Canadian.

      Back to the binary issue. The common law legal system (spanning multiple countries and multiple centuries) often imposes intermediary liability, e.g., in cases where there is no effective and practical remedy against the "real" villain. I acknowledge the risks associated with that approach and am not so confident in the trade offs (e.g., vis a vis the consequences to free speech) that I want immediately to argue for imposing that liability. However, I think it is worthy of reasoned debate.

      I am not particularly inclined to select Google or other search engines as the optimal targets of intermediary liability as the forces of the marketplace and their own self interest might suffice. But what about platforms like RipOffReport? Might it be justified subjecting them to intermediary liability?

      Some of the audience will, of course, note that I raised a similar concern in comments on another post a few days ago. Some of the respondents to those earlier comments decided that obscenities made a good counter-argument. Perhaps those respondents will be a little more thoughtful this time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 5:23pm

        Re: Is it really binary?

        But I am not convinced there are no other choices.

        I am, because once you let that camels nose under the tent, a whole herd of camels will followed, led by the RIAA and MPAA amongst others.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 5:35pm

        The common law legal system (spanning multiple countries and multiple centuries) often imposes intermediary liability, e.g., in cases where there is no effective and practical remedy against the "real" villain. I acknowledge the risks associated with that approach and am not so confident in the trade offs (e.g., vis a vis the consequences to free speech) that I want immediately to argue for imposing that liability.

        And yet…

        I am not particularly inclined to select Google or other search engines as the optimal targets of intermediary liability as the forces of the marketplace and their own self interest might suffice. But what about platforms like RipOffReport? Might it be justified subjecting them to intermediary liability?

        …here you are doing it.

        To paraphrase what someone else said above: This approach is akin to saying “finding the real bastard is too much work, just sue the site instead”. That approach isn’t about justice — it’s about finding the easiest target for vengeance, even if they weren’t directly involved in the injustice. Anyone who thinks that approach is a good thing will need a better argument than “maybe it’d be a good thing ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”. That includes you.

        Some of the respondents to those earlier comments decided that obscenities made a good counter-argument.

        I use obscenities because that’s how I talk in real life. If you can’t handle the fire, get outta the fuckin’ kitchen.

        Also: Tone policing? Really? That isn’t helping your argument look any more reasoned/sane.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:24pm

        Re: Is it really binary?

        The NYTimes article (whose factual reciations I have not attempted to verify) says that the victims spent a lot of resources getting RipOffReport to take down the defamatory content.

        It's interesting that they don't link filings or really describe what they actually did. Maybe the system really failed on multiple occasions over a long period, or maybe they weren't doing the best job of getting stuff taken down. They mention repeatedly contacting sites, but why should any site take your word over the other person's? This is exactly how people and companies attempt to bury accurate and truthful information they don't like as well. Then they mention suing the person they figured out was behind this, which i am sure was a huge pain, but finally addressed some of the original problem. At no point do they mention getting defamation judgements against a John Doe and using those to get the (obviously incredibly offending) content taken down. This would have been the faster track. They also could have spoken loudly and publicly, calling attention to all of it, in which case public opinion would have been very much on their side.

        So regarding intermediary liability, how, exactly, do you propose to make an intermediary liable just because someone makes a claim to them which is different than a claim posted to their site? That's not how anything works, ever. You're just asking for more notice-and-takedown with zero evidence, or someone gets punished. Regardless of what this family may have produced to show to Ripoff Report, et al, that the statements were egregiously defamatory outside of the legal system, and how much some of these sites may have been very bad about working with the family, that's what you're asking for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Vermont IP Lawyer (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 6:46am

          Re: Re: Is it really binary?

          I agree with lots of what you say, e.g., re better approaches they could have taken. Good points.

          On intermediary liability, let me elaborate. I would NOT propose a simple DMCA takedown system expanded to cover allegations of defamation just as the current DMCA system covers allegations of infringement. The abuses of the current system have been well explained on this site and an expansion of this kind would make it much worse. However, suppose we invent some additional hoops through which the party seeking takedown must jump. For example, if I go into court seeking a preliminary injunction, the judge can, as a condition of granting the injunction, require me to post a bond that I forfeit if I cannot prove my case. (Further explanation may be found at https://www.performancesuretybonds.com/blog/what-is-the-purpose-of-a-preliminary-injunction-bond/.) It's up to the judge to decide whether I am likely to prevail on the merits (if not, my request for an injunction is denied) and also how big a bond is appropriate to balance the equities.

          A system like that is not perfect and, like almost any system is subject to abuse. But at least there is a control built in to moderate the potential for abuse. A problem with the current DMCA system is that it puts too much burden on the party opposing takedown. This is one way (maybe there are others) to shift the balance of the burdens.

          By the way, I do very much appreciate the civility of your comment.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 7:03am

            Re: Re: Re: Is it really binary?

            Having had Trump as a president, do you still want to propose any form of notice and take down outside of a successful trial?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:39am

            suppose we invent some additional hoops through which the party seeking takedown must jump

            People with enough time, money, and testicular fortitude will jump through those hoops and abuse the system anyway. Don’t think it couldn’t happen — it could and it would.

            at least there is a control built in to moderate the potential for abuse

            The DMCA has such a control. It’s as toothless as a newborn baby. What makes you think yours would have any more “bite” to those who can game the system?

            A problem with the current DMCA system is that it puts too much burden on the party opposing takedown.

            Your system would only put a burden on the complaining party up to the point where the speech is taken down. The burden would then shift to the defending party, which would mean they’d need to prove a negative (the content isn’t defamatory) rather than the complaining party needing to prove a positive (the content is defamatory).

            Your system would be the DMCA with a couple of extra hoops to leap through. If you know it can be abused, and you don’t have any ideas on preventing that abuse that can’t be defeated by money/connections, you’re not suggesting anything we haven’t already seen from copyright maximalists.

            Your entire idea hinges on the premise that content should be taken down before it is determined to be defamatory. That is a gross violation of the First Amendment — in spirit, if not in letter. Any other suggestions in that regard will be deconstructed, insulted, and otherwise discarded for being shit. No amount of “but we can put up more hoops!” will change the fact that you’re advocating for an idea that runs on the notion of “guilty until proven innocent”.

            Your idea is literally no better than the DMCA takedown system. If anything, because of the scope of speech it covers, your idea might be even worse.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Vermont IP Lawyer (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 2:08pm

              Re: Hoops

              Mr. Stone says:
              Your entire idea hinges on the premise that content should be taken down before it is determined to be defamatory. That is a gross violation of the First Amendment — in spirit, if not in letter.

              No, I don't believe I said that (and I certainly did not intend it). You and I seem to agree it would be a problem to have a system where Babcock's mere allegation of defamation results in a takedown unless the counter-party jumps through hoops to prove the negative (i.e., no defamation).

              I am hypothesizing a different system where Babcock has to get a court to confirm there was defamation. In that hypothetical system, the or iginal poster would have an option to contest the allegation of defamation. Maybe the platforms would have that option too. Maybe an industry organization, in which the platforms could share, would have that option too. Only when Babcock won his case, would potential liability be triggered for platforms.

              To whom, exactly, would that pose an unfair burden?

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 2:38pm

                Re: Re: Hoops

                To whom, exactly, would that pose an unfair burden?

                Anybody who attracts the ire of someone with money. Either they accept takedowns, or they spend money to get things put back up. A one sided hearing is always biased towards the complainant, as they select the evidence put before the court. Taking a recent example, how much manipulation would Trump have used that law for.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Vermont IP Lawyer (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 2:46pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Hoops

                  This is a legit concern. Figuring out how to balance the burden is challenging. I do not have the skills to propose a system for which I want to advocate but, neither, am I convinced that the current system si the best we can do.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:05pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Hoops

                    The risk with changing 230 is that many people will be partly silenced to benefit very few people, while enabling those with a history to hide to largely get it hidden, allowing them to continue their predation on society.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:10pm

                    I do not have the skills to propose a system for which I want to advocate

                    You have the skills. All it takes is the ability to string words together, which you clearly have. What you lack is the foresight needed to see unintended consequences and the ability to convince anyone that your idea is necessary, let alone good from a legal, moral, and ethical standpoint. That you didn’t seem to consider how your system could be gamed is a “you” problem.

                    You identify as an IP lawyer. You’ve been proposing a system as open to potential abuse as the IP law known as the DMCA. Those facts make me think you have another motive for proposing this system that you either can’t or won’t admit to having — maybe even to yourself. So maybe you need to back up a few feet from your own bullshit and smell it with a fresh nose, so to speak. It sure as hell stinks from where I’m sitting.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • identicon
                      Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 6:17pm

                      Re:

                      IP lawyers intentionally benefit from a system that requires as little proof or accountability from them as possible. It's how we got the RIAA and how the likes of John Steele and Keith Lipscomb were allowed to make vague accusations for money, then run like hell at no consequence when asked to prove it.

                      Not considering how their proposals can be gamed is entirely part of the plan. They'd be first in line to do it.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:02pm

                I am hypothesizing a different system where Babcock has to get a court to confirm there was defamation

                That sounds like our current system — the one where people who believe they’ve been defamed go to court to get a ruling that says “yeah, you’ve been defamed”.

                In that hypothetical system, the original poster would have an option to contest the allegation of defamation.

                Again: That is how our current system works. We don’t need some new process for that.

                Maybe the platforms would have that option too.

                For what reason should a platform need to, or have the ability to, contest whether third party content is defamatory when the platform isn’t legally liable for that content?

                Maybe an industry organization, in which the platforms could share, would have that option too.

                For what reason should that even need to exist in a world where we already have both a functioning court system that handles defamation claims and a law that protects platforms from legal liability for content it didn’t directly create/publish?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 12:32pm

    'The real cause takes work, so we'll just blame 230.'

    There are many large societal issues which need fixing in this world, including safety nets, mental health systems, both criminal and civil law procedures and enforcement. And if all those systems fail, blaming intermediary liability laws for not magically fixing them all seems incredibly misplaced.

    At best it's lazy, blaming an obvious (and wrong) target because going after the underlying causes take actual work and are a lot more difficult to deal with, but more often than not these days I'd chalk it up to flat out dishonesty, where since 230 is the current punching bag of liars and assholes blaming it for all the wrongs online is an easy way to score points with the gullible, even if 230 has nothing to do with what happened.

    It's much easier to blame 230 than dive into the details of an obviously deranged person seriously in need of mental help and the fact that they didn't get it and had to be jailed in order to stop them from continuing their harmful activities, especially if doing so allows you to rile up the suckers to support you even more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 3:18pm

      Re: 'The real cause takes work, so we'll just blame 230.'

      Everything is the fault of 230 until the right get their way, then it'll be the fault of some other thing that wasn't an issue previously until it's removal can be used to harm the GOP's enemy du jour.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 1:01pm

    Canada should repeal 230 ASAP... like after they pass it.

    Remember how people used to say there oughta be a law??
    It is now there oughta be a way to sue tech for not fixing this.

    But then I called the crazy lady at the center of this crazy & was told off on teh twitters that insulting her just undermined my entire premise. o_O

    The bigger problem to me (and shock people disagree) is that this is the new writing on the bathroom wall in high school. We repeat the stuff we see there & then feign innocence that we hard any part of it. People publicly demand anti-graffiti stall walls but they still read, repeat, & act upon what they find written there.

    In talking with Kash (what, you're not on chatting terms with famous reporters?) She pointed out that lots of people thought the claims were fake... but still worried that where there was smoke there was fire.
    People want to imagine bad things about others to make themselves feel better. A picture on Pintrest with pedo stamped on it is all the proof we need to begin assuming they are a pedo b/c somehow we assume everything online must be true?

    This isn't a tech problem as much as its a human nature problem.
    Yes Google should probably delist RipOff Report, its a shitty source but that opens the door to the lets just demand they deindex everything thing anyone thinks is harmful and then Google is empty. Why does it fall on tech to tell people that RipOff report isn't exactly an upstanding player in the game, why is it so hard to convince people that a majority of the posts on it are just cranks trying to get even? Why do people treat stuff online like a burning bush handed them sacred tablets of truth?

    Kash also noted that after she started working on this after the subject complained that people would find out about her antics on Google...

    “Anyone who Googles my name, this will come up, and I don’t want this to come up,” she said.
    giggles
    She uses google to destroy reps & upset it might happen to her.
    Why it never occurred to her before that it could happen to her.
    All it takes is someone with a grudge or bored

    And then sites saying mean things about Kash went up...
    Perhaps part of the reason the law hasn't kept up is we keep focusing on the wrong things... this isn't an internet problem or a platform problem... this is a society problem. Someone obviously not mentally well is left to her own destructive devices while we're busy blaming everything but her & our failed systems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 6:46pm

      Re:

      Perhaps part of the reason the law hasn't kept up is we keep focusing on the wrong things... this isn't an internet problem or a platform problem... this is a society problem. Someone obviously not mentally well is left to her own destructive devices while we're busy blaming everything but her & our failed systems.

      Yes. If you look at many of the comments, people scream to "lock her up", or to "fine her" when she's homeless.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:27pm

      Re:

      It doesn't even require a person with clinical mental issues. I mean, look around...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 2:51pm

    I am almost always for Section 230 but I think this is a place where a legitimate criticism might come into play.

    The problem, as I see it, is that a defamation victim has no tort avenue to equitable relief.

    Suppose an anonymous user posts a defamatory picture on Pinterest that harms Bob Smith's employment prospect. Smith sues John Doe and has no means of serving Doe because the picture was posted anonymously. What does he do? Nothing. He has no remedy. The picture lives forever on Google and destroys a person's earning capacity unless they change their name.

    Secondly, how would criminal law have helped situations like Mr. Babcock's? Criminalization of defamation is frowned upon. Criminal law might punish the person perpetrating the harm but it doesn't give the victim actual relief in terms of having the defamatory content removed and delisted.

    I hate to suggest a DMCA style system of takedown claims + severe anti-SLAPP provisions but I can't think of any other way to provide relief when we allow our intermediaries to be deliberately indifferent. I would love for someone to prove me wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 3:06pm

      I hate to suggest a DMCA style system of takedown claims + severe anti-SLAPP provisions but

      “…I sure as hell won’t let that stop me!”

      Defamation is a shameful act. But repealing 230 won’t stop it from happening. Neither will enabling a DMCA-type system that anyone can abuse to take down any kind of legally protected speech they don’t like.

      The only people who would dare suggest such things are people who want to silence non-defamatory speech they don’t like. I’m left to wonder whose speech, or what kind of speech, you’d go after first.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 4:56pm

        Re:

        You are putting words in my mouth. I'm not talking about stopping defamation, I'm talking about civil remedies for defamation.

        The last paragraph is an ad hominem which I will not indulge in. You should learn how to argue better.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 5:39pm

          You are putting words in my mouth.

          So what?

          I'm not talking about stopping defamation, I'm talking about civil remedies for defamation.

          Distinction without a difference, if your approach is to kill 230 protections.

          The last paragraph is an ad hominem which I will not indulge in.

          Spoilsport.

          You should learn how to argue better.

          Don’t should all over me. I don’t know where you’ve been and I’d prefer not to catch COVID.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:29pm

            A textbook example of incivility that we don't need

            I really expected better than this, but apparently you are a prolific contributor on this community and are unable to separate criticisms of a policy and criticisms of the intended goal of a policy. You chose to inject snark into what should have been respectful dialogue.

            How you conduct yourself is just about as important as what you have to say, and if this is how us technical folk present ourselves while trying to save Section 230, we're in deep trouble, folks.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 11:15pm

              Re: A textbook example of incivility that we don't need

              Isn't this tiresome for you?

              • Lie, misrepresent
              • You get called out on it
              • Impotent whining about how people are being mean to you

              Wouldn't it be better just to be honest in the first step?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:34am

                Goodbye

                I think what you meant was "wouldn't it be better if you just had my opinion in the first step?"

                Goodbye! Have a great day.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 4 Feb 2021 @ 12:04am

                  Re: Goodbye

                  "I think what you meant was "wouldn't it be better if you just had my opinion in the first step?""

                  You gave it to us, and as usual it was full of laughable misdirection and untruths, which were so unsupportable that you immediately switched to self-indulgent whining when challenged.

                  Doesn't this tire you?

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:08am

              I really expected better than this

              Expectations are disappointments planned in advance.

              unable to separate criticisms of a policy and criticisms of the intended goal of a policy

              Distinction largely without a difference.

              You chose to inject snark into what should have been respectful dialogue.

              I’m an elder millennial. Snark is second nature for me.

              And if you wanted respectful dialogue, you should’ve offered something better than “I don’t want to kill 230…buuuuuuuuuut I’m sure as shit gonna try”.

              How you conduct yourself is just about as important as what you have to say, and if this is how us technical folk present ourselves while trying to save Section 230, we're in deep trouble, folks.

              And therein lies your problem: I’m a regular jackoff, not a “technical folk”.

              I can be polite and civil. It’s not hard to do. But I’ve seen too many bad “kill 230” arguments to put up with them in a civil way. Snark comes first; obscenities, next; and the outright dismissals of bullshit from the get-go come last. Don’t like that chain? It’s easy to break.

              All you need do is offer an argument that doesn’t boil down to “I want to kill 230, but in a roundabout way that looks like I’m not trying to kill 230 so I can have some semblance of credibility when I say ‘I don’t want to kill 230’ ”.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:39am

                You obviously do not understand the rules of engagement

                And for that reason, I'm out. Goodbye! Have a great day.

                P.S.: Next time when having a debate, try not to start with the assumption that people who disagree with you are arguing in bad faith. Your ignominious behavior is a textbook example of why our deliberative assemblies are failing.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:50am

                  try not to start with the assumption that people who disagree with you are arguing in bad faith

                  I can do that for you…as soon as I see an argument from you that isn’t rooted in bad faith/intentional ignorance.

                  Your ignominious behavior is a textbook example of why our deliberative assemblies are failing.

                  Have you tried not electing racist assholes to represent you?

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 3:59pm

      Re:

      So say you snap your finger and gut 230, guess what? That wouldn't have changed what happened in the slightest, if anything it would just make things vastly worse as sites either block user content entirely or pull content at the slightest excuse, and if you can't see how that would(not 'could') be abused you're not looking.

      The woman doing the abuse was identified and sued for defamation, and a Canadian court deemed her a vexatious litigant and ordered her to stop attacking people online. When it continued, she was held in contempt of court and sentenced to prison.

      And even the main site listed in the story, Ripoff Report, notes that it responded to lawyers from some of the victims and took down the stories at issue.

      So, we're talking about a non-US abuser and non-US victims, and a US website that actually took down the content. It did take more time than they had hoped, but the system still did work.

      This story has bugger all to do with 230 other than people trying to make it about 230 when it very much isn't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 4:24pm

      Re:

      The problem, as I see it, is that a defamation victim has no tort avenue to equitable relief.

      Section 230 does not apply to this case, as it does not come under US laws.

      Why are you so eager to get a notice and take down system? Is your past hindering your ability to run your scams?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 5:02pm

        Google is an American company. I can file a DMCA claim for a Google search indexed listing even if the website referenced is in a jurisdiction that is outside the US or in a country that doesn't recognize a copyright treaty.

        Perhaps you should consider that people have different views from you, and for reasons that aren't "because this person is objectively evil". The ad hominems are embarrassing and counterproductive.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 5:40pm

          Perhaps you should consider that people have different views from you, and for reasons that aren't "because this person is objectively evil".

          You’re calling for a DMCA-like notice-and-takedown system that would apply to all speech instead of copyrighted works. “Because this person is objectively evil” is good enough for me.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:33pm

          Re:

          Google is an American company.

          Right. So we actually want two things: The removal of Section 230 and the ability of actors in two other countries to dictate what some person or company in a third country can do, as well as what the laws of the third country may be.

          That's less reasonable. Comparing it to the absolutely awful and broken DMCA system doesn't help, either. (Also that was written by corporations, just apparently the ones you dislike less or something.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 11:18pm

          Re:

          "I can file a DMCA claim for a Google search indexed listing even if the website referenced is in a jurisdiction that is outside the US "

          Yes, because the DMCA claim does nothing about the original content and only affects the US-based Google search index. People can still see the original site you're trying to hide either way.

          "Perhaps you should consider that people have different views from you"

          We do, and we also support the ability for people to choose which different views they associate with on their own property.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 6:12pm

      Re:

      Huh... no remedy.
      Lets see... someone claimed I did the defamation & sued to find out who I was IRL.
      It got stopped b/c well they were idiots, screwed up trying to do it, and their claims couldn't pass the sniff test.

      If I had posted a picture of Steele with pedo stamped on it, that surely could meet the bar to get the id. In suing me for having posted it they also get a court saying its false which he can use to get it removed from online.

      There is no easy solution, but to make the easy solution the deep pocket just has to pay you is a stupid idea.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 6:14pm

      Re:

      That isn't a legitimate criticism. It is a downright nonsequitor to go from "not easy to find who is responsible" to "therefore we should allow suing somebody else!". Lets go with a metaphor.

      Some kid in a mask could egg your car walking on a sidewalk by a fancy house. The chances of tracking the brat down are very low so therefore we should allow suing the owner for people who commit crimes on their sidewalk?

      That farcical scenario doesn't even encompass the full scale of what is wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:43pm

        This isn't even a remotely similar analogy.

        A person using TOR posts a picture of me stamped "PEDO" onto Pinterest. I file a John Doe lawsuit to find the original poster. I cannot identify the OP through a subpoena. The suit fails for failure to enact proper service.

        There is no trial. There is no judgment. There are no monetary damages. There is no relief in equity (as in removal of the content). The picture remains on Pinterest, forever damaging my reputation and making it impossible to obtain gainful employment.

        At least in my theoretical DMCA-style application, a notice and counter-notice system would provide a pathway to either scrub the harmful content or adjudicate in court the merits of my claims. Yes, it would be abused like the DMCA already is, which is why I would support a severe anti-SLAPP provision, give standing to hosts to file suits for frivolous takedowns, and generally speaking make the process very frustrating for the people asserting the takedown. Is this really the best system? Probably not, but I believe that we can do better than the status quo.

        Culturally, we need to stop reflexively believing everything we read about people on search engines. I am just concerned about the ability of monolithic giants to blithely destroy the livelihoods of relatively powerless people who have done nothing wrong.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:18am

          Yes, it would be abused like the DMCA already is, which is why I would support a severe anti-SLAPP provision, give standing to hosts to file suits for frivolous takedowns, and generally speaking make the process very frustrating for the people asserting the takedown.

          Yes or no: Do you honestly think any of that would stop people with the right amount of time, money, and drive for revenge from abusing a “free speech DMCA”?

          Is this really the best system? Probably not, but I believe that we can do better than the status quo.

          I’d like to think I’m not a “status quo warrior”, but I’m also not someone who sees a need to shake up the status quo for no reason other than to do it. We don’t need to change how 230 works (or that it’s on the books) and how we don’t currently have a “free speech DMCA” on the books.

          Could the law do more for people who’ve been defamed? Probably. Giving them an easy target to sue when their actual target is harder to find won’t help anyone (except for bottom-of-the-barrel lawyers looking for a quick payday). Neither will giving those people the First Amendment–breaking ability to take down legal speech regardless of whether a court has ruled it defamatory.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:48am

          Re:

          "A person using TOR posts a picture of me stamped "PEDO" onto Pinterest. I file a John Doe lawsuit to find the original poster"

          There's 2 issues here. One is finding and prosecuting the person who actually posted the picture. The second is whether or not Pinterest leaves the picture up after being notified of its damaging nature.

          In reality, a service like Pinterest would probably agree to take the picture down once made aware of it, since it obviously serves no purpose other than to defame, and it's not in their business interest to keep the photo up. If they refuse, you could potentially go after them in court for this refusal to take the picture down, but they should not be held liable for the defamation itself. This is perfectly possible right now, with my understanding of section 230.

          What you seem to be asking for is that Pinterest is held directly liable for the original act of defamation, even though they clearly had nothing to do with it beyond their property being used. This is highly problematic and leads to a huge level of damage for perfectly acceptable content.

          "Yes, it would be abused like the DMCA already is"

          If you're aware of there being widespread abuse of a system, maybe it's not the best one to use as a model for other easily abused systems to be put in place?

          "Culturally, we need to stop reflexively believing everything we read about people on search engines."

          Also, social media, random blogs, chain email, etc. Removing one possible avenue of misinformation is not an answer, especially since removing the Google search result does not affect the availability of the defaming content, which can be found and distributed by other means by anyone who wishes to put in the minimum of effort.

          "I am just concerned about the ability of monolithic giants to blithely destroy the livelihoods of relatively powerless people who have done nothing wrong."

          The answer to that is not to remove their private property rights or to hold them liable for things they didn't do.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 4:42am

          Re:

          Culturally, we need to stop reflexively believing everything we read about people on search engines.

          And yet you want the ability to take stuff down with a notice, so which is your true position?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 11:42pm

      Re:

      The problem, as I see it, is that a defamation victim has no tort avenue to equitable relief.

      True in all cases, not just defamation. Tort claims are essentially legal, and thus not subject matter for equitable relief. The theory in tort is that you get money damages in an amount intended to compensate you.

      You might want equity, e.g. an injunction, against an intermediary. That ought to require suing the intermediary seeking a mandatory injunction to remove the offending material. This will prove unsatisfying because the person who posted it can post something very similar five minutes later.

      What might be more satisfying is either to sue the poster, and seek third-party discovery from the intermediary for purposes of identification, or to bring a pure bill of discovery against the intermediary. The idea would be to find the person who posted the offending material.

      In fairness, however, defending even a pure bill of discovery takes time and money. I should prefer to see the plaintiff be required to reimburse this, possibly converting the reimbursement to an element of damages when bringing suit against the offending poster.

      In nearly all cases, however, I should prefer to see S:230 immunity over a return to the Stratton Oakmont [23 Med.L.Rep. 1794] state of affairs. That case fairly illustrates the hazard of intermediate liability.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 4:28pm

    Section 230 has nothing to do with Canadian websites , stupid people do bad things on random websites even outside the USA.
    Websites need a process to remove content that's false or defamatory wherever they are located .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:35pm

      Re:

      Well, they generally do, but defamatory is a thing decided by a court, not a second party's say-so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 11:19pm

      Re:

      "Websites need a process to remove content that's false or defamatory wherever they are located ."

      They usually do. Websites are also bound by what their local courts find to be defamatory, not what some random foreign actors wishes it to be.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gary Merce, 2 Feb 2021 @ 6:41pm

    Internet blackout to save SECTION 230

    It worked it 2012, 2013 against SOPA AND CISPA. HOW COME WE ARE NOT DOING IT AGAIN? We need to save section 230

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 8:58pm

    And Wendy's own story debunkes the "victims have absolutely no recourse" lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 4:22am

    This is why we need enforcement of criminal defamation

    The woman doing the abuse was identified and sued for defamation, and a Canadian court deemed her a vexatious litigant and ordered her to stop attacking people online. When it continued, she was held in contempt of court and sentenced to prison.

    I have a relative who is a pathological liar. Never diagnosed, but she fits the definition to a T because she will literally lie when the truth would not only serve her better, but have people siding with her. Conducted her own informal campaign of defamation in our family and among family friends, but was smart enough to never take it to the internet.

    I have no sympathy for this woman beyond "give her mental help--in prison." She's not a clear cut case of needing to be institutionalized. She's clearly functional enough that she needs to live daily in fear that if she hurts someone the iron fist of the state will come crashing down on her head and splatter her like a bug.

    I am a big believer in destigmatizing mental health and expanding treatment, but she is not unaware of what she's doing. This is evil, just like my relative. She's not so insane she fails to comprehend that what she is doing is firmly against the mores of society and the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 7:51am

    Equity will not enjoin a libel

    Right now, googling for the well-known maxim, “Equity will not enjoin a libel”, returns as the top result:

    “ ‘Equity Will Not Enjoin a Libel’: Well, Actually, Yes, It Will”, by Ann C. Motto, Seventh Circuit Review, 2016.

    Abstract

    The First Amendment prohibits prior restraints on speech. Indeed, prior restraints are the most serious and the least tolerable infringements on First Amendment rights. Because of this, for nearly 200 years, courts stood by the maxim that "equity will not enjoin a libel"; traditionally, money damages were the only remedy available to a defamed plaintiff. However, there is a modern trend among some state and federal courts allowing the issuance of a narrow, permanent injunction against statements that have been adjudicated defamatory. . . .

    Before posting, I've spent some time reading this paper, and it seems to suit my purposes here well enough: It provides both a brief historical overview of the well-known traditional maxim, “Equity will not enjoin a libel”, and then it goes on to examine (and criticize) the current situation. From p.281 (p.11 in PDF):

    The traditional rule that equity will never enjoin a libel is quickly becoming a maxim of the past. Today, some state and federal courts are willing to enter narrow, permanent injunctions in defamation cases where there has been a jury determination of the libelous nature of certain statements.

    (Footnote omitted.)

    One area in which this paper falls short (at least for my purposes here), though, is in its treatment of the historical division between the law courts and courts of equity in both England and America. The author presumes that readers have the background to understand the fleeting parenthetical reference on p.278 (p.8 in PDF) to the 1839 New York Court of Chancery as “(an equity court)”. That division between the law and equity courts is now long obsolete, and the more general audience here may not fully grasp it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:05am

      Re: Equity will not enjoin a libel

      Before I close that particular search window, there's another top google result worth attention, an earlier, longer paper…

      Freedom of Speech, Defamation, and Injunctions”, by David S. Ardia, William & Mary Law Review, 2013

      Abstract

      It has long been a fixture of Anglo-American law that defamation plaintiffs are not entitled to injunctive relief; their remedies are solely monetary. Indeed, it has been repeated as a truism: “equity will not enjoin a libel.” . . .

      On p.20 (p.21 in PDF), Ardia succintly brings out the point that the historical division into separate court systems, each with their own procedures and remedies, profoundly influenced the substance of the law.

      Due to the historical division between courts of law and courts of equity, common law judges originally lacked the authority to grant any equitable relief. When the Crown abolished the Star Chamber in 1641, English common law courts began to hear defamation claims. Because these courts had no power to grant injunctions, and courts of equity lacked the authority to adjudicate claims for defamation, the only remedy available for defamation was money damages at law.

      (Emphasis added, footnotes omitted.)

      From the next paragraph, do note that the English division between law and equity carries over into American courts—

      In the United States, this same division of power between courts of law and courts of equity existed until 1938, when enactment of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure formally merged law and equity jurisdiction in the federal courts. Merger in most states followed shortly thereafter. . .

      (Footnotes omitted.)

      The key point to glean from this is that the somewhat “accidental” history of the procedural machinery does generate, in this instance, substantive content of the law.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:24am

    A few of MANICK's lawyer buddies did the exact same thing to someone else.

    This is why he's been so apeshit in favor of 230 and against those who are against it, even mainstream reporter at the NYTimes (who hired a writer who did the exact same thing to someone else), even when confronted with evidence of an individual not being denied use of a copyrighted meme, which is a heinous crime in Dirtworld, but denied the basic respect and fundamental rights any citizen should enjoy.

    It's not mental illness that causes online bullying, it's that bullies are sociopathic assholes and the internet is now a perfect weapon. Legal change of name should take an hour so that people don't have to worry about being tarred and feathered or having to answer to lies on a date, at a job interview, or when trying to rent a home. Those are constitutional harms tied to reputation which make defending one's reputation a fundamental human right.

    Acting out on search results should bring liability to the landlord, date, or employer who smugly tries to search for "dirt" on someone online, then makes negative decisions about the target. That bad actors -- many of whom have ties to MANICK's lawyer buddies -- can destroy lives as if playing a video game by manipulating an army of Aspie incels, who in turn manipulate a market of white-collars in power who are easily manipuated by what they read on line, makes it necessary for people to defend themselves.

    If you REALLY want to keep Section 230 intact, allow anyone defamed to sue for declaratory relief that such a statement is not true, and require search engines to link to the Court orders that clear someone's name. These trash sites would in turn lose credibility for not deleting obvious lies, and would benefit by being able to say "we only trash someone based on truth" or whatever. It would actually enhance their credibility as well.

    A global "bathroom wall" turns the internet into a town where one cannot leave to rebuild a new life as they could in the Wild West so many liken to the internet. Raising the level of debate to where we challenge the accuser rather than the accused would be a step forward. Adjusting or removing 230 would be like having cleaner to wipe out lies from the bathroom wall. The Supreme Court has said that lies are not in the public interest as free speech is even if it's legal to lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:41am

      You got anything new, Jhon, or are you literally resorting to repeating all your “greatest ‘hits’ ”?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 11:36am

      Re:

      A global "bathroom wall" turns the internet into a town where one cannot leave to rebuild a new life as they could in the Wild West so many liken to the internet.

      And yet we have sex offender registries, no-fly lists, and the like, where no one is really concerned about being able to "rebuild a new life." Couple that with "I can't afford to mount a defense, so I'll just accept a plea bargain" - are you prepared to extend this idea to those kind of people as well?

      Perhaps we should start with those first, see how well it works in practice, and then move on to section 230 or not. For the sake of the accused....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 2:28pm

      Re:

      A few of MANICK's lawyer buddies did the exact same thing to someone else.

      [Asserts defamatory facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 3:29pm

      Re:

      People can defend themselves without suing intermediaries, and a right to defend is not the same as a right to successfully protect or get compensation from someone not directly responsible for the harm you’re defending against. The right to speak up in your own defense, have others speak up to defend you, ask websites to take down defamatory content, and sue those who knowingly harm your reputation by telling false factual statements for defamation are more than enough to satisfy having “a right to defend your reputation”; intermediary liability is unnecessary to achieve that.

      Also, I don’t think you understand autism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 6:13pm

      Re:

      This was supposed to be your ace in the hole, Jhon? An article about "Section 230 abuse"... That doesn't even take place in a country where Section 230 exists?

      Wasn't it you who constantly said that other countries are fine precisely because they don't have Section 230?

      Seriously, Jhon. Even when you think you're firing a six-shooter, blanks are all you have. Then again you're the legal genius who also thought Paul Hansmeier would win on appeal. Not surprising you'd demand for legal name changes in an hour and not see how that'd be abused. It's almost like you're very invested in seeing that happen, as if you've spent years on a website boasting about raping Aspies and making threats on another person's children.

      As you so often like to claim - physician heal thyself!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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