Saturday, October 17, 2020

Example of a defamation case against a blogger reported; Section 230 will have a major hearing before Senate Commerce Committee Oct 28

There was relatively little known case settled in 2017 where a blogger Susan Shannon, herself a former West Point Cadet, had (in 2013 personal blog post) accused a former cadet in the US military of sexual assault in 1986.  The officer was up for promotion, and the Army, having seen her post, investigated and cleared him.  But the officer felt humiliated and retired.  The Army Times story is on the matter is compelling.  The blogger was forced to pat actual and punitive damages by a jury.

It’s interesting that the blog post apparently was widely read.

Scott Leffler posted the story very recently on Facts World.

One moral of the story is that individual content creators (including bloggers) do get sued sometimes for defamation.  There have been problems in the past for false or facetious suits for supposed copyright infringement (Righthaven). 

And platform liability shielding (both Section 230 for torts, and DMCA safe harbor for copyright) is getting weaker, as the political climate becomes more polarized.

Scott Galloway (an NYU Business school professor) appeared on Smerconish Saturday morning (Oct 17) and discussed the upcoming hearings Wed. Oct 28 before the Senate Commerce Committee, as noted here.  The public will be invited to watch the hearing by livestream.

Galloway said on Smerconish that the biggest problem is that algorithms reward sensational content with more ads, until tech companies censor the most inflammatory content (like the recent prohibitions about Qanon). 

 One issue often overlooked is hosting companies, who need only the first part of the shield, because they generally don't monitor content.  Instead they have AUP's that prohibit some specific content (usually patently unlawful content, online pharmacies, terror recruiting, sometimes weapons sales).  

Smerconish’s poll on whether social media companies should be shielded from liability on the way they police their platforms showed that the public wants the liability shield lifted.   The public does not value free speech for its own sake, the public wants more intersectional equity.  I expect to see Electronic Frontier Foundation opine on this upcoming hearing very soon. 

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