Saturday, January 08, 2011

How To Defame People Online

Dawg has a nice update on the CC vs. Patrick Ross defamation case. In the comments, Marky Mark asks:

1. If a bear shits in the woods and nobody is around....i.e., what is the relevance of the obscurity/traffic of the blog that publishes the defamatory material? There is a difference between something appearing in a large daily newspaper or high traffic website and something technically available to all on the Internet but on a site that has insignificant traffic. Can a reputation be harmed in the community in those circumstances?

To me this gets the situation upside down.

Or, to put it another way, if I wanted to damage a person by defaming them on-line, I wouldn't worry too much about the amount of traffic I attracted to my blog or whatever I was using as the vehicle for my attack. Rather, I would worry about where the stuff I wrote about that person ranked in a Google search. As someone whose real-life job occasionally involves sniffing around the net trying to discover whether a particular (usually IT-based) company is a respectable enough business partner for my employer, I can tell you that if you apply for any position above burger-flipper someone in HR is going to run your name through google, see what you're up to on Facebook, and etc. If the first ten google entries about you all claim that you're a pedophile (for example), your resume will be moved to the bottom of the pile. Nobody is going to waste time testing the truth of these claims, and nobody is going to tell you why you didn't get a follow-up call. You just won't get one.

This, by the way, also works as an argument for working to remove Hate Speech from the Net. Here's what you get when you search for information re the oft-made claim that Anne Frank's diary was a hoax. The loons rule the top of the search results. Through sheer determination, they have swamped any saner discussion of the matter. But note that these sites do not themselves have to be particularly high volume to make the top of the list.

7 comments:

Paul S said...

This, by the way, also works as an argument for working to remove Hate Speech from the Net.

But not illegal music downloads. Lefty logic at its finest.

Here's what you get when you search for information re the oft-made claim that Anne Frank's diary was a hoax. The loons rule the top of the search results. Through sheer determination, they have swamped any saner discussion of the matter.

And where might I ask, is this "saner" discussion being swamped?

Never in my life have I heard an individual question the authenticity of Anne Frank's diary.

However, I have listened to numerous "progressives" claiming 9-11 was an inside job. And most progressive still consider it plausible.

That is a far more dangerous belief but censorship won't cure that malignancy.

Marky Mark said...

BCL,

The traffic point was raised at a Law Society of Upper Canada webinar in May, 2009 led by internet libel experts--the issue came up when they were canvassing the various available defences to libel and how those defences would be interpreted in the age of the internet. But you're point is well taken as the legal issue is whether one's reputation is damaged or not-that's why the traffic point was raised. Do you know how you move up or down in terms of search engine hits? And if a defendant could show that the alleged defamation didn't if fact get any search engine hits (or they were only on page 20 of 20), do you think that would end the matter?

Marky Mark said...

Btw when I Google the plaintiff's name I don't see pedophile come up at all. Same result for you and, if so, given your post would you think that relevant in any contested proceedings?

bigcitylib said...

MM,

I don't want to pretend expertise re Google I don't have. An account of the way they rank websites is here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank#Simplified_algorithm

...but it gets quite mathy. The point is it isn't just traffic that goes into the weighting. It rewards, for example, obbsessiveness. If there are only ten people writing about the Anne Franks Diary hoax, and they all link to one another and write a lot, the algorithm will (as I understand it) reward this even if they are a bunch of crazy loons. Somebody new to the subject, if they gain entry to it via google, will be introduced to it by the loons.

In CCs case, I believe Ross wrote somewhere publicly that he was trying to drive his stuff on CC up in google rank. I don't know how successful he was. Remember too that it looks like he stopped writing about CC awhile ago; his stuff would most likely start drifting down in rank after that.

Mark Francis said...

Interesting points in Ross' defense. Perhaps he should have raised them in court.

Oh, wait. He didn't bother to show up.

Marky Mark said...

Don't forget one party is in Ontario and the other is in Alberta. Defending an action out of province is not the easiest thing to do. Mind you, winning an action and then having to realize against someone with no assets in the province of judgement will not be a picnic either.

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