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Responses to Blog Reviews of The Future of Reputation: Part II

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8 Responses

  1. Eric Goldman says:

    You say “How often will people attempt to request to have information taken down? How frequently will such a notice-and-takedown system be abused?” Although not 100% transferable, there are data sources that could be used to evaluate this empirically, ranging from International experiences (where they don’t have 47 USC 230) or any private adjudicatory process offered voluntarily by service providers. In my perhaps dated experiences at Epinions, we usually got multiple meritless takedown requests every day–in some cases, even for matters unquestionably covered by 47 USC 230. As a result, I’m skeptical that the empirical data would bolster your case. Eric.

  2. PG says:

    Agreed with Eric. On my blog, I have noticed an increase of requests for comments to be deleted, and even for one post to be removed, because the subject of the post or comments felt that s/he was misrepresented. These are people who were arguing defamation, not privacy for the truth. Thus far I have followed the requests, as either the post reasonably could be misinterpreted or the comments were obvious attempts at Google-bombing. Having authored the post, I’m less certain it should have been deleted, and if the request had not come from someone with whom I was distantly acquainted, I quite possibly would have ignored it. Had it come in the form of an attempt at a legally-enforceable takedown, I would have dug in my heels.

    I also would be unlikely to take down where the object of criticism was a public figure (such as a judge or well-known businessman). Of course, such persons also are less likely to be spending their time monitoring what’s said about them on a blog; they either have well-established online reputations (even if I wrote a post grossly defamatory of Michelle Malkin, how far down in a search would you have to dig to find it?) or aren’t worried that what comes up on a Google search will be assumed to be true by the people they care about.

  3. Epinions is probably not the norm, as this is a site explicity designed to elicit opinions. I’m also curious how many takedown requests were by individuals for (valid or invalid) privacy reasons and how many were by businesses for (valid or invalid) negative criticism.

    In my two-and-a-half years of blogging, I’ve only been asked to remove comments two or three times. It certainly was manageable. And in nearly all cases, the information did strike me as defamatory and/or invasive of privacy, so I don’t consider the cases abusive takedown requests. In all cases, the comments weren’t pertinent to the posts, and their deletion caused no great loss. So in my limited anecdotal experience, over two-and-a-half years, the requests for deletion of comments were (a) few; (b) all seemingly valid; (c) easy to comply with; and (d) caused no sense of loss (i.e., none of the comments seemed to be expressing any particular idea that added anything of value to the post).

  4. Amber says:

    This:

    requests for deletion of comments were (a) few; (b) all seemingly valid; (c) easy to comply with; and (d) caused no sense of loss

    is perhaps explained by the relative maturity of the audience for this blog and the range of topics discussed? You don’t get many kooks here, and there are few posts which would inspire comments threads in which personal information would be potentially relevant and therefore more problematic to delete.

    You admit in your book that most people seeking redaction of online information about themselves are generally not motivated by financial concerns. I thus fail to see how the relative lack of monetary stakes will meaningfully reduce the likelihood of takedown notice abuse.

  5. Amber,

    My point was that the lack of financial concerns eliminates one prime motivation for lawsuits — i.e. earning money.

    Even though the primary motivation for takedown is not monetary, I don’t see a barrage of takedown requests occurring. Indeed, even under our current system, where Sec. 230 immunizes bloggers for comments of others, there’s no reason why a person shouldn’t at least ask for something to be taken down — at worst, the blogger says “get lost.” So I wonder — if we limit Sec. 230 immunity, will this substantially increase the takedown requests? Or will it merely just create more incentives for compliance to existing takedown requests? So I’m questioning two empirical assumptions: (1) that existing takedown requests are particularly high for most blogs; and (2) that with more privacy-protective law and limited Sec. 230 immunity, the takedown requests will not dramatically increase. I could be wrong about one or both of these assumptions, but I’d really like to see some good evidence to suggest that these assumptions are wrong.

    You’re right that Concurring Opinions is not likely to get many defamatory or privacy-invasive comments, so that’s certainly a reason why we haven’t had scores of takedown requests. But I doubt that the average blog gets tons of takedown requests — even blogs where people blog about their personal life. The ones that will probably get the most are the more popular sites that explicitly solicit gossip in a systemic way — the shaming and gossip sites like Don’t Date Him Girl, etc.

  6. “If we leave the decision about what’s newsworthy solely to the discretion of the media writ large (i.e. anybody who posts anything online), then we must accept the judgments of the lowest common denominator.”

    Yes, and after all, why should they have First Amendment rights?!

    Perhaps it’s emphasized more in your book than in this post, but a) truth is always a defense, even for non-public figures, and b) non-public figures can become public figures when they engage in public controversies. In both instances, it may not actually be a significant problem, in my view, for the type of information you’re complaining about to be made public.

    Lies and libel are a different matter, but “privacy” is about protecting true facts from discovery.

    On my blog over the last nine months I’ve been writing about scandals at the Texas Youth Commission, and the comment section has become a near-constant dumping ground for TYC employees dishing about problems at the troubled agency. While there has been a great deal of name calling and many angry rants, plus a lot of “calling out” managers who are public employees but not necessarily “public figures,” even some TYC administrators have said to me the dialogue generates useful information that wouldn’t otherwise come out. See the often boisterous comments related to these TYC posts and tell me if you disagree:

    http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/search/label/TYC

    Also, you ask, “How often will people attempt to request to have information taken down?”

    I think the answer is “much more often” if the request is a) enforceable or if b) most bloggers comply.

    As for “How frequently will such a notice-and-takedown system be abused?” – IMO it’s abused every time information is taken down that wouldn’t meet standards for libel.

    I haven’t read your book, but from these reviews it sounds like I may come out on Amber’s side of things. best,

  7. Danielle Citron says:

    Dan’s “notice and takedown” suggestion for site operators is worth taking very seriously. The First Amendment concerns about over-enforcement are of course weighty, as Amber notes. But Dan has a powerful argument that the balance now is struck with too little regard for privacy and reputation. Section 230′s immunity gives site operators/bloggers/chat room overseers a free pass to keep up defamatory and/or deeply damaging comments and pictures about private individuals.

    Recall the despicable Autoadmit incident from the Spring. Consider the initial refusal of the Meankids.com and unclebobism.com site operators to take down the offensively doctored photographs of programming instructor Kathy Sierra. Dan has it right–the current state of affairs is broken and needs to be rethought. A notice and takedown regime might help us get at the cheapest cost avoider, the site operator such as Jarret Cohen and formerly Anthony Ciolli of Autoadmit, who could deter future tortious behavior by taking down defamatory posts. The proposal certainly has its weaknesses, including First Amendment chilling concerns. But it is worthy of serious consideration.

  8. “Consider the initial refusal of the Meankids.com and unclebobism.com site operators to take down the offensively doctored photographs of programming instructor Kathy Sierra”

    I didn’t follow that case, Danielle, but from your description I’d have taken that in just the opposite way, as evidence that current law has recourse for when site operators refuse to take down libelous material (which “doctored” photographs not presented as satire would be). If Ms. Sierra had no recourse under law after an “initial refusal,” I might agree with you.

    Proposals to keep the unwashed masses from exposing their equally unwashed opinions to the public inevitably will hit many speed bumps as norms and habits evolve. Like Daniel, “I don’t believe exposing all our warts will improve our judgments of others or create a world where the norms people champion yet secretly transgress disappear.” However, neither do I think that this quite adult realization argues against exposing warts at the expense of the First Amendment.

    I’ve had politicians call me on the phone more than once demanding that I take down posts I’d written (not comments, but blog posts) about their public statements and actions in legislative committee hearings. They were used to those actions remaining secret – like Daniel, they weren’t concerned about libel, but about truth being exposed to the public.

    My own blog policy FWIW is to remove blog comments under two circumstances: 1) Demonstrated libel (perhaps five or less cases in my blog’s three year history, all but one identified by me, not a complainer), and 2) “trolling,” defined subjectively by me as making derogatory comments about anyone, public figure or not, that do not include an argument. You can say on Grits, “Jack is an idiot because he thinks X but Y is true,” but I won’t let you get away with “Jack is an idiot.” Otherwise, all complained-about material stays up. best,