Wayne Crookes sues the Internet…

I found the following today during my usual morning coffee + web browsing session:

Wayne Crookes, a former campaign manager of the Green Party of Canada, said he “suffered an immense amount of frustration and emotional distress” over postings on Google’s Blogspot.com, a free blog-hosting website, within an entry under his name in Wikipedia, and on openpolitics.ca, an interactive political forum set up by Michael Pilling, an Ontario and federal Green Party activist.

Source: globeandmail.com: Internet hosts should be made to pay for libellous statements…

Mr. Crooke is, by my reading of it, basically frustrated and upset that anonymous people have been able to post defamatory (and presumably untrue) statements about him.  Since he can’t find the anonymous people to sue (and since they probably don’t have any money anyway), he’s suing the various service providers who hosted their content.

The world wide web is founded on the premise of free speech.  I can say whatever I want, and if you don’t like what I say you can post your own opposing opinion somewhere else.  If I libel you in a legal sense, you can in theory send your lawyers after me…if you can figure out who I am.  But anonymity is also pretty well established on the Internet.  So that leaves  suing the Internet service providers.

But validating opinions and determinations of “fact” versus “fiction” are decidedly *not* something the ISPs are equipped to deal with.  Doing so would mean having full time legal teams working around the clock to review tens of thousands of posts: basically, it is totally inconceivable.  And thus far, the courts have been pretty clear in their interpretation that free speech on the Internet is reasonably well protected.

In contrast, service providers like Google, or your local ISP, can and do respond to relatively clearly defined copyright violation notices.  If you hold copy rights on something and I post something on the Internet using it, you can probably get it taken down very quickly by contacting whomever is hosting the content.  These takedowns proceed without any real confirmation of actual copyright violation.  The ISPs take the content down defensively, because right or wrong, proving copyright violation in court is expensive.  And copyright issues have been clearly defined in court and in law, in the U.S. at least, via the DMCA

Lawsuits like the ones being launched by Mr. Crooke that target ISPs for libel regarding content posted by their clients should send a chill through anyone who likes to think of the Internet as a true bastion of free speech.  I’m not saying that libeling someone should be “protected”, but I think we and our legal system should definitely err on the side of permitting free discourse of opinions. 

If, for example, a significant collection of case history was established showing that suing ISPs to take down “libellous” content was a successful strategy, I can guarantee that ISPs would start taking down content the same way they do for DMCA complaints.  That is, before the complaint has been proven by law.  So, if you said something I disagree with, I could send a letter to your ISP and poof- your thoughts would be gone from the Internet.  If I was simply a jerk who didn’t like you I could do the same, and poof- your rights disappear because of the fear of litigation.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Crooke’s legal motions get tossed out of court with extreme prejudice.  Not because I support libel or dislike Mr. Crooke (I have no idea who he is, and know absolutely nothing regarding what it is he’s upset about), but because I know how damaging a successful result for such a case could be.   He and people like him are living in a happy fairy-land where somehow ISPs can determine instantaneously the difference between a legally protected opinion and a piece of libellous trash.  Either that, or he and his legal team don’t give a flying fig about the rights of everyone to express their opinion.

In short, my opinion is this: people like Mr. Crooke and his entire legal team should be required, by law, to read and agree to an Internet usage license before they launch a browser.  The Internet is a scary place, full of personal opinion dressed up as fact, despicable thoughts and images, and dangerous scams intended to trick you.  It is also full of useful and wonderful things: it is up to the user to figure out the difference, and no one will babysit you.  If you don’t “get” this, you should be permanently banned from use of the service.  Good day and good riddance.


[tags]DMCA, free speech, rights, libel, Crooke, green party, lawyers[/tags]

9 thoughts on “Wayne Crookes sues the Internet…”

  1. I am the author of The Green Compost Heap


    which I do not use anymore. I use this site now:


    He has all kinds of lawsuits! See http://uncrooked.pbwiki.com/



    He is soooing this little worm for writing this: http://greencompostheap.blogspot.com/2006/08/blow-it-out-your-tailpipe.html and yet it is all true!

  2. This is frightening… The reading is truly an embarrassment. So do the common people get to sue politicians for slandering us?!

  3. I agree, Oblivions- frightening. But I do try to imagine something like how he might feel. Imagine, for example, if folks on the Internet decided to publish material claiming evidence that I am a cross dressing Nazi, and if other people on the Internet believed that. I’m not going to comment on whether I *am* a fascist transvestite: it could be true or false, but either way it is damaging to my reputation and concrete *proof* of any such behaviour doesn’t exist.

    Now let’s further assume that the original posters are anonymous, but post on a publically accessible forum or blog. What would my actions be? How could I respond? Every time I manage to convince a blog owner to remove the unprovable posts, they would just reappear somewhere else. Perhaps my attempts to have the content removed generate further condescending responses from the blog/forum owners and participants.

    Put in those terms, I could visualize circumstances under which I might resort to using the legal system the way Mr. Crooke has. Setting aside the specific instance of Mr. Crooke, it does raise some intriguing problems/questions regarding the future of the Internet.

    In the world of electronic commerce, where face to face interactions become rarer and rarer, you *are* your reputation. It has become common practice now for employers to Google prospective employees. They can find an individual’s posts on MySpace, Facebook, or wherever else a person might have commented/spewed. Or wherever someone might have included that individual’s name, perhaps even in jest.

    Being anonymous won’t save people either: there now exists highly accurate facial recognition software that can scan billions of photos and find matches to a reference image. So if someone ever snaps a picture of an individual worshipping the porcelain gods at a party, that image could be traced back to them even it is completely anonymous. Additionally, Google and other search engine companies have history of every search done from billions of IP addresses, and many of those anonymous posts have IP addresses…it isn’t all connected yet, but the pieces are nearly all there. And it is already scary what can be done with all that data.

    When an employer has 200 resumes, the ones with “cross dressing Nazi” somewhere in their Internet history, or a photo or two of college-era binge drinking, might just get tossed into the circular file. If it has ever been published on the Internet, it is there forever- indelibly etched in the caches and “way back” archives.

    Oh, and did you know that slightly more than 40% of all women and men will do a Google search on their current paramour early in a relationship? There are anonymous websites where men and women can post information on a potential date based on their supposed experiences. They can name names- the poster remains anonymous, but not the named individual. Imagine such a tool in the hands of a jilted lover, or even just the jerk in the next cubicle over? Food for thought, and it does offer another perspective on the situation of Mr. Crooke and his lawsuits.

  4. Having been the subject of such vicious attack by anonymous posters I know EXACTLY what he’s feeling. With that in mind I still won’t go blaming Blogger for having shit-head, egocentric, destructive little people posting shit I know isn’t true about me.

    I will get even. I also learned that stooping to their level will only encourage it. The moment you stop being a target things seems to fizzle out. Difficult or nearly impossible for a politician but like many professions there are risks and slander of your character has always been a well known side affect of the ‘public life’. Sueing the maker of the pen that wrote the words is wrong.

  5. Having spent way too much time online, I have to say that complete anonymity isn’t a good thing. People are social primates and we evolved under the conditions that if we did something socially unacceptable the rest of the monkeys would beat the crap out of us and feed us to the next leopard to come up the tree.
    I honestly think that a lot of people NEED that social pressure as a gauge for their behaviour. While a certain degree of anonymity is freeing, which is why more people will try a nude beach when vacationing miles away from home and people they know, I think that for many people, with out the possibility of shame, they are without any sort of control or limit on thier behaviour.
    Of course suing the ISP is pointless, and like suing the manufacturer of the film stock because the movie it was made into was slanderous. But I’m coming to the opinion that at least in places where the internet is most prevalent, the developed west, the extra freedom provided by complete anonymity is outweighed by the real social and emotional harm done, not just to the targets, but to the people that once they let their inner demons loose on the web, will find it difficult to return to normal social behaviour.
    I think it might be better if people had internet ID’s like the old numbered swiss bank account. No one would know who the ID belonged to, but the ID could be penalized for it’s actions. I suppose in the long run you would end up with online law, and online courts for these online ID’s. And that too might better reflect that there is a difference between the virtual and the real, and that real world courts are not well equipped or suited to dealing with most online social infractions.

  6. Maybe we can meld Chris’ idea with one of my pet “future tech” topics: direct neural connectivity to the Internet. In this “responsible anonymity” mashup, you could be anonymous, but your behavior could always be traced digitially back to your physical self. No one would need to know who you are, but if you behave badly the system could send a nasty shock directly into your brain, causing you to fall on the floor spasming and drooling. “Ah, crap, Harry must have been a jackass online again- he’ll be peeing himself and twitching for the next hour at least.”

    Doesn’t that have a certain visual appeal? 😉

    I think Chris has a good point, though: I’m just not sure how it could be managed. You’d need some sort of safe/neutral/impartial “arbiter” of the relationship between your various anonymous selves and your real identity. Penalties would have to make some sort of sense: my electroshock idea is probably right out, but perhaps blacklisting/reputation downlisting for all of your anonymous selves based on your global actions. And then, of course, there would have to be some limits or controls to prevent the government or authorities from simply picking on people who disagree with them.

    How would you get people to participate in this mechanism? Why would the people with behavior problems give up the absolute anonymity that permits them to act out? I suppose you could enact a form of exclusion: if you don’t participate in the new responsible anonymity system, you can’t post here…something like that.

    The underlying problem is nicely expressed by this somewhat crude cartoon from Penny Arcade. It would be nice if people could just learn to behave: in the absence of that, perhaps a bit of electroshock is in order after all?

  7. I submit, however, the question of what *IS* proper behavior? Obviously destructive, hurtful behaviour is wrong but those lines are fuzzy depending on the social template people are working in. I have tried to touch on this in my own blog back when the shit storm was on going. In the mean time I still haven’t worked that out to my satisfaction how to truly govern (define) ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ behaviour.

  8. Society as a whole has the same problem defining “proper” behaviour. That is why different countries have different laws and those laws are changed and revised on an ongoing basis.

    I think a good starting place is the old “your right ro swing your arm ends at the end of my nose” saying. You can do what you like unless it infringes on the rights and freedoms of others. ( Of course we live in a world where a woman will vehemently claim that 2 guys getting married to each other on the other side of the continent is directly harmful to her personally. )

    A bigger challenge would be how to make it self regulating, not requiring an extensive online government.

    As stated you would need some secure neutral party that would grant internet ID’s which would be tied to a particular real world person. There would have to be a limited numbe of ID’s per person as well. Perhaps some sort of biometrics combined with an automated double blind encryption scheme?

    While no one without a court order should be able to find out who in the real world that ID belongs to, that ID should be attached to all online interactions. ( A benefit is it would cut out “impersonaations”.) Right of the bat it would make it a lot easier for site owners to ban people from their online communities. People would not be able to simply go and make a new handle, or walk to another internet cafe to get around an IP ban.

    In real cases of slander, legal proceedings could be taken against the ID, and only if the courts found probable cause would the real world identity need to be revealed. This should limit fishing expeditions while at the same time actually allowing people a chance to go after their harassers. Now, it is usually more trouble than it is worth unless you have unlimited time and deep pockets to try and track down a person stalking, harassing or slandering online. It is just to easy to hide.

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