This has been an excellent project for both of us. It forced us both to think outside of our comfort zones and to expand what may have previously been limited opinions. I would quickly like to finish the sentiments that I was attempting to express last time. In the matter of a subject based website receiving a report of defamation, I do not believe that the website should only and always side with the business. That would defeat the entire purpose of the website, for nearly every business would always report any negative report to be defamatory. I also do not believe that the party accused of defamation should be voiceless in this conversation. John is right that the burden of proof has always rested on the accuser, not the accused. However, in this case, I think that we must view the defamatory statement as somewhat separate from its author. Upon receipt of a report of defamation, the statement should be taken down and presumed guilty, its author should be viewed as its attorney; he/she should have the opportunity to defend it, and if it turns out to be false, to walk away at the end of the day, assuming that this is not a regular occurrence. Both sides should have a chance to speak, but in the interest of protecting businesses, the comment must be taken down initially. One comment can cost a business vast amounts of money; assuming that the author is not actually harmed, the mental anguish that arises from having a post deleted pales in comparison to the fiscal losses that can be the result of a defamatory review.
I like John’s statement that “We can’t lump all speech on the Internet into a single can—there’s just too much variety, too many differences.” It reminds me of a fundamental problem with internet related legislation; the internet moves so incredibly fast that courts and legislatures have been repeatedly ineffective at controlling it. These official processes and proceedings take so long that they are very often outrun by rapidly changing technology that rends anything they do obsolete before it is even enacted. Attempting to qualify each section of internet policy with its own branch of legislation is ultimately unrealistic. By the time one item was passed, it would not matter any more and there would be a new issue that required out attention.
This project has been particularly fascinating to me because of the way we have organized ourselves for its completion. In these articles, I took a strong conservative position, arguing that online speech must be monitored, controlled, and potentially removed depending on its content. While I did not approach the position of ignoring the first amendment altogether, I advocated that we qualify it to a rather extreme point as it pertains to internet speech. I said that websites should be heavily incentivized to police their own content and remove statements that are defamatory or libelous. In reality, I am not at all a conservative when it comes to internet policy. I believe that freedom of speech in all its forms is one of our most important and unviolable constitutional rights. In my opinion, websites should not be required to police what their users posts; rather people should understand what they are looking at. If you are reading an anonymous review that is claiming that a contractor stole from their client, chances are you should take that review very lightly. I believe that section 230 is an essential shield for the internet to continue its current rapid pace of growth. Like John, I believed that touching internet speech was a clear violation of the first amendment. However, this project forced me to stand from the other side of the table, and unreservedly argue the opposite opinion, and overall, I have expanded my opinions greatly. I now believe that some regulation of internet speech is necessary in order to preserve its integrity. We must greatly limit its scope, but their must be some form of oversight.
I know that here I must sound like a bit of an internet pessimist. I am absolutely not. I think that no matter what path the internet takes, it will only be beneficial to us. Never before has there been a better entity to demonstrate the idea of a perfectly competitive market than internet domains. There is absolutely no obstacle to changing the way you do something online. If facebook was to begin maliciously filtering posts, people would immediately and easily begin changing their social networking habits. Already, a multitude of capable competitors to facebook, reddit, yelp, etc. exist. This existence forces these companies to adhere to their users’ interests. It is too easy to build a website, too easy to move to a new one, too easy to change for the internet to be a negative force. In our legislature, we require representatives in the House to seek reelection every two years in order to hold them to the people. If they violate our wishes, they will be removed from office. The internet works the same way, but with seconds instead of years. If websites violate our wishes, we can and will change. They will seek to exist unless they give us what we want. This gives us, the users, immense control over the internet, far more than the website creators. Public opinion controls the internet; this explains why it both moves so fast, and can never be a negative force in our lives. We can always just use it differently.
Thanks John, Professor Malone, and all of our non-existent readers- its been fun…