Thursday, April 22, 2010

Put Up or Shut Up Time for the National Post?

Why won't that rag just crawl away somewhere and die?

The National Spot has a well-deserved reputation for advancing the cause of global warming denialism. It spins faux-skepticism like crazy - and I do mean "crazy." Along the way it's taken some pretty fierce swipes at certain climatologists and now it's facing its day of reckoning for that - in court.

UVic climatologist, Dr. Andrew Weaver has launched a suit against the Spot in the BC Supreme Court. Weaver is suing in defamation. He thinks the Post was over the line when it's asserted, "he's a corrupt scientist who promotes global warming theories so he can obtain government research grants."

It's the old "in it for the grants" hoax line these morons cherish so much and now the National Spot has stepped into "put up or shut up" territory. It's time this issue was put before a court and the denialists forced to defend their vicious lies. These fake journalists have acted outrageously in recent years. What could be better than to show them they can't act with impunity any longer?


Greg said...

Why won't that rag just crawl away somewhere and die?

Because there are too many rich, powerful, men in this country, who are willing to put as much money as is necessary, to keep it alive.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't know Greg. The damned thing is a cash sieve but, then again, it does serve a purpose to some.

Anonymous said...

If there was a prime example in the art of self-immolation, The current version of the National Pest is it.

Scruffy Dan said...

As I understand it he is also going after some anonymous commenter as well, and claiming that the Post is responsible for them.

While I sympathize, making a website responsible for content put up by others is a very slippery slope.

Probably best to stick to the defamation written and posted by the National Post, and leave the commenter out of this, even though they were clearly defamatory

The Mound of Sound said...

Dan, I think the days of unmoderated, anonymous commenters are about over. It's gone from a vehicle of expression to a tool of manipulation and, in this case perhaps, defamation. You've got the Guergis situation where staffers plant letters to pump up their employer. That's bad enough but to allow a stranger to use one's newspaper to defame, that is to say injure, someone else isn't justifiable. At the very least the paper ought to ascertain and verify the commenters real name, e-mail address and telephone number.

The New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post all do that. Why should the Notional Spot not be expected to do the same?

One of the greatest dangers facing our society in this century may come from powerful disinformation campaigns of the sort employed by denialists to thwart meaningful action on environmental threats.

Despite all the science that continues to pour in, denialism is growing in the US. You know that one of their greatest weapons is to defame legitimate scientists as liars and hucksters. Enough.

Scruffy Dan said...

Anonymity is not going away, neither are unmoderated comments, though they do substantially decrease the value of comment sections.

There are some serious ramifications in making a site responsible for content uploaded by others.

Scruffy Dan said...

To elaborate on my points.

Anonymity is an essential aspect of the internet. One that needs to be defended even though it will sometimes be abused.

As for moderating comments, I think every site owner who allows comments needs to make a call. There are pros and cons that must be considered, and one should not be forced by the courts to moderate.

I think it is also very problematic if site owners are held responsible for the comments that other leave on their sites. Most site owners are not legal experts and are likely largely ignorant of the relevant laws (I know I am). If I was liable for other peoples comments I would be tempted to simple ban comments all together. And I doubt I would be alone. It would create a chilling effect that would silence a lot of speech that otherwise would be permitted, and we would lose the conversation.

As I said slippery slope.

Mark Richard Francis said...

"There are some serious ramifications in making a site responsible for content uploaded by others. "

They already are.

If the commenter is anonymous, and if the publisher is not to be held responsible, then that's a license to libel at will. It's also open to abuse by the publisher, who can disguise himself as an anonymous commenter and maliciously libel at will otherwise.

No, the publisher has to be responsible. What we really need is a protocol: Complained of comments, if altered or removed by the publisher in a timely manner, should sufficiently protect the publisher from liability.

And I don't like how we define libel in this country. I'm rather tired of fair comment defenses being ruled out when there's malice involved -- kind of makes much political speech automatically libelous. Anyway...

Scruffy Dan said...

@ Mark

That is one way in which anonymity can be and is abused. But think of the flip side. That same anonymity provides far greater benefits.

As for publishers, again it is a slippery slope, and it goes far beyond comments. Much of the copyright debate of late has focused on making sites like Youtube and other liable for the content uploaded by users (an Italian court found google execs liable for a horrible video that was on youtube). This concept is even being pushed to make ISPs liable for infringing content that travels over their network.

The situation might be different, but the result is the same. A massive chilling effect and self censorship that goes well beyond what any well intentioned law might try to accomplish.

This is a slope that we best stay off of. Not to mention we risk alienating a large swath of the tech community, who is vehemently opposed to such restrictions.

The Mound of Sound said...

Perhaps some middle ground can be found in redefining "publication" such that libel is limited to commercial ventures while relatively miniscule efforts such as blogs fall within the ambit of only slander.

I don't think a lot of blog posts are read by more than a few score of visitors and, hence, a defamatory comment could hardly be worse than someone shouting the same thing across a crowded coffee shop.

The distinction is significant. In slander, as opposed to libel, special damage must be proved. Hurt feelings don't count. There are a few exceptions - allegations of crime, disease, unchastity (watch yourself Dan), imputation of incompetence. Also in slander the publication must be malicious.

Further slanderous statements are not actionable if it is clear thhey were uttered merely as general "vituperation" and so understood by those who hear them. It's a "reasonable man" test.

Or at least that was the basis of the law back in my day when ships were made of oak and men were made of iron.

Scruffy Dan said...

"Perhaps some middle ground can be found in redefining "publication" such that libel is limited to commercial ventures"

But then one gets into the issue of service providers. Youtube is a commercial venture should it be liable for the video and comments posted there? What if they get algorithmically promoted to the home page?

The issue I have is that once one starts down this road, mission creep is inevitable. It reminds me of how child porn laws have been used to argue for more surveillance of internet activities, then used for catching kids trading MP3s.

Also in the same vein that most blog posts re not widely read, neither are most comments... especially at unmoderated sites.

Scruffy Dan said...

I understand the desire to do something to stop these obviously horrible comments, but I really think this solution will do more harm than good.

Scruffy Dan said...

There is more problems with Weaver's suit, and I finally got around to writing about them here