freedom forum founder wants less freedom online 12.01.2005, 10:11 AM
posted by lisa lynch
For just over four months, a biography of Freedom Forum Founder John Seigenthaler that appeared on Wikipedia, Biography.com, and Answers.com claimed -- incorrectly -- that he was once a suspect in the assasination of both John and Robert Kennedy. Last month, Seigenthaler found out about it, and he got angry. Very angry.
In fact, he got angry enough to write a November 29 editorial in USA Today complaining about Federal laws that protect online corporations like Wikiepedia from libel lawsuits and protect the anonymity of the person who published false information about him online.
Don't get me wrong: it's certainly a serious problem that Seigenthaler's biography contained false information (I haven't been able to determine yet whether the assassination rumor is an artifact of the vast Kennedy conspiracy rumor mill, or whether it was a pure invention of the phony biographer -- anyone know?). And the flaws in Wikipedia are a real issue. But I'm still astonished that one of the nation's great free speech advocates seems to be advocating systemic changes to legislation that protects not only prank speech, but political speech online.
Is it that Seigenthaler feels (but does not say) that there is a fundamental difference between print media and online? Or is this a case of someone knowing Seigenthaler's Achille's heel, and publishing the one rumor about him that would cause him to seemingly contradict his basic principles?
Daniel Brandt on December 2, 2005 2:02 AM:
I have read and name-indexed over two dozen books on the JFK and RFK assassinations, and let me say that there is not even a single hint that any of the hundreds of researchers interested in these assassinations has ever been interested in Mr. Seigenthaler for any reason whatsoever. Period.
The false information was bogus and malicious and any court in the country would declare it libelous on its face.
We have to start with that premise, and then go on to analyze the problem with Wikipedia's structure of anonymity. That's the culprit. It's too easy for vandals to play games on Wikipedia.
lisa lynch on December 2, 2005 8:21 AM:
Thanks for that, Daniel, since I'm less versed on Kennedy history. But remember, I was referring not to historical books on the topic, but to the "conspiracy theory rumor mill," which seems broad and deep enough to include just about anyone alive during that time period. The information in the "biography" was bogus and malicious, but it's a different thing if the biographer was a conspiracy-theorist buff and repeating something that was not original to them. So then the question becomes, is it libel because it moves from a conspiracy-theory website onto Wikipedia? If it shows up on a conspiracy-theory discussion board, for example, is it libel?
I agree that it's too easy for vandals to play games on Wikipedia, but are libel laws and the removal of anonymity protections the way to solve this problem?
dotWORLDS on December 21, 2005 8:41 AM:
Google's Tactics Result In Notice To Sue For Libel By dotWORLDS
Google's refusal to take decisive measures to remove libelous content from its search engine forces Domain Names Registrar dotWORLDS to serve notice of its intention to commence an action for defamation and slander.
For Immediate Release
LONDON/Dec. 19, 2005 --- Google's refusal to take decisive measures to remove what dotWORLDS claims is libelous content from its search engine has caused the Domain Names Registrar to serve notice of its intention to commence an action for defamation and slander.
Despite an agreement by Google to withdraw a number of allegedly defamatory postings from its worldwide search engines, dotWORLDS (www.dotworlds.net) CEO Brian Retkin claims its gestures are "simply token and a continuation of its policy of obstruction and delay."
"In contrast to what many see as a total disregard for the reputation of its users, Google vehemently protects its own privacy," said Retkin. According to a September 4, 2005 story in the Sunday Times Online by Dominic Rushe, a recent public relations fiasco occurred after Google banned its staff from talking to CNet reporters for one year. It transpired that the ban was Google's response to CNet's publication of personal information about Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO. It was then learned that not only was the information already in the public domain, but the same information about Schmidt was also available on Google's own websites.
"Google's reaction to CNet was inconsistent with its handling of a man who had been falsely accused as a pedophile by his wife during divorce hearings," said Retkin. His name and photograph were posted on a police website but were removed after the charges were dropped. However, having picked up the story, Google did not remove the pictures or postings it had published on its search engine. According to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum (WPF), the page remained accessible through Google and was only removed after a long struggle.
"DotWORLDS believes Google's refusal to fully address libel on its websites is a global problem," said Retkin. "There is little to stop the popular search engine from being hijacked by unscrupulous individuals for their own purposes. Google has managed to defend its position by relying on the unique status of American law."
"The biggest obstacle that dotWORLDS will face is the court's grappling with Google's defense that it cannot judge what is defamatory and that it cannot be in the position of having to make such judgments - which in the defamation area are notoriously difficult, even for a court to make," said Retkin. "This would be coupled with the pre-eminence of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, which is always given the benefit of the doubt in the United States and which has often proven to be a viable defense in recent Internet-related cases."
With such uncertainty, dotWORLDS may find it difficult to prevail, however it says it plans to fight its case from a new perspective in order to succeed where others have failed.
"If dotWORLDS does succeed, the ramifications for Google could be immense," said Retkin. "Up to nine billion pages could require proper scrutiny, putting Google in need of a larger staff and greater resources to ensure it remains on the right side of the law."
Dillon Pyron on July 3, 2007 5:21 PM:
Once again, Retkin seeks to suppress freedom of speech. His claims of libelous content involve, in many cases, commentary on his service that are less than complimentary. The fact that he is using so many fora to publish his self serving press releases should be sufficient evidence of that. I'm actually surprised that it was published here, since it is, in fact, spam.