Why Sue Over Wikipedia Posts?

from the seems-like-a-bad-idea dept

There's a post on Digg getting plenty of attention, about a Catholic school in Omaha, Nebraska that was upset about somethings written on the Wikipedia page about the school -- and decided to sue. While it's not clear from the Digg post, they did not sue Wikipedia, but rather went after the unidentified people who posted the comments on Wikipedia. Oddly, while it was up just a few hours ago, the news page the Digg post refers to has disappeared. Another version of the story is available at the Omaha World-Herald, but requires Bugmenot to login. The World-Herald article is quite balanced, explaining accurately why the school cannot and should not sue Wikipedia.

However, a larger question may be whether or not the school should sue whoever (disgruntled students, most likely) made the original, contested, entries. The school claims that it "suffered general damages" due to the content of the postings -- though, it's difficult to see how anyone in their right mind would take the complaints as anything serious. They seemed like typical childish defacements from annoyed students, probably from a competing school: "It's (sic) tuition is ridiculously high, too. Not to mention you get an awful education there. They put more emphasis on sports than they do education. No wonder almost all kids there are complete idiots." The easiest thing to do would have just been for officials from the school to delete those statements from the Wikipedia page. However, by going the legal route, they've suddenly given those statements a lot more prominence, a la the Streisand Effect. Prior to this, very few people would have known about what Wikipedia had said about the school. Now, many more will. If the school was really upset about the "damages" these statements would cause, then why not just edit them out? Suing only calls that much more attention to them.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Shawn, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 4:12am

    15 minutes of fame, baby.

    That's all the schools after. Maybe a quick buck, though I doubt they'll get it.

    It is a simple vandalism on a Wikipedia page. Oh well, life goes on. But the school has to make a big deal out of it because they want to be melo-dramatic (seems to be a big school trend). Give it a few weeks, and the court will throw it out and the whole issue will be forgotten. The school will probably try to milk out a bit more publicity or money, but won't get very far.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 4:53am

    changed it themselves, sure. but who said it.....any media is good media? maybe a bit too far.

    like it's been mentioned with other "negative" things against estabilished systems, it's not going to be much of an impact. those who believe it it will, and those who don't, will have something else to add to their feelings. nothing really changes

     

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    JerseyRich, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 4:59am

    Re: 15 minutes of fame, baby.

    Well, this can only be bad for the school, so I doubt they are trying to 'milk' anything, and even they know they'll never get any money out of this.

     

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    DreadedOne509, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:07am

    Re: Re: 15 minutes of fame, baby.

    Then why bother to sue? It makes no sense.

    And who is to say the 'school' didn't put them up to it, or have something more sinister to do with it?

    A little almost-free advertisement.

     

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  5.  
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    JerseyRich, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:10am

    WHAT PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND

    ...is the Streisand Effect. If they did, they would just sign up for a free Wikipedia account, and take care of business.

    I and the company I work for were slandered in a small, local newsrag, a few weeks ago. I was indignant! My first reaction was to write a letter to the editor in response. But then I remembered the Streisand Effect (thanks to Mike and TD), and just left it alone. The issue died with that issue (no pun intended), and life went on.

     

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  6.  
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    dorpus, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:18am

    IRB

    What if people begin posting confidential information about the school, though? Names and phone numbers of students, stuff like that? Names of ongoing law enforcement investigations?

     

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  7.  
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    Just Me, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:19am

    If the school is not going to gain anything, then why would they go as far as suing? surely it costs money to sue someone, specially if you don't know who you are suing?

    Isn't it the case that you have to be registered in Wikipedia before you can post comments? I mean yeah you could still post comments without registerations, but don't they log in your IP address if you make a comment and you are not registered?

     

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  8.  
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    Shawn, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:43am

    Re: Re: 15 minutes of fame, baby.

    I fully believe any publicity is good publicity.

    It's quite clear the Wikipedia was vandalised, so everything placed in the Wiki about it sucking, would be taken as a lie. Therefore, there's no REAL damage done since I doubt a vandalised Wikipedia article would change someones mind about that school, unless they were "on the fence" about going to it.

    The school didn't have to sue, so they obviously feel the need to do it for a reason. And why sue unless you're getting money or fame out of it? And since it'd probably be petty change... I don't see why they would do it outside of publicity.

     

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    Sanguine Dream, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:49am

    A little silly to me...

    As long as the poster didn't put up any confidential info (like the SSN of students and staff or something) then they should have just let it slide or edited the article. This school wanted to make a name for itself plain and simple. Talk about taking the Streisand Effect to a new level. I (and most readers here I assume) have never even heard of this school before this.

     

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  10.  
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    Kizor, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:56am

    Re: IRB

    Dorpus, that has happened before. (Not with this school, I presume, but in other cases.) Wikipedia introduced a new tool to combat it just this summer: Administrators can now permanently delete revisions. There was some controversy over that, as permanent deletion is somewhat contrary to the ideals, and it's meant to be used only to destroy personal information.

     

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  11.  
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    ctyankee, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 6:44am

    Why are we surprised?

    The Catholic Church (for example) often gets into these things of condemning films only to give the films more publicity (sometimes a lot more) than they ever could get on their own. Thus making more people curious about checking the film out. Thus defeating the whole purpose of the condemnation.

    Why? They just can't see the 'big picture.' (pun intended).

     

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    jbgoff, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 7:07am

    Because teh interweb is just a series of tubes and if you have to change something on it you have to sue. Yup, you can't log into Wikipedia and change it yourself because you're too ignorant. If you want something done right, do the complete opposite and wrong thing and sue over it.

     

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    Raekwon, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 7:40am

    Re: Any Media is Good Media

    I would have to agree, who would even care about a school in Nebraska otherwise. I don't see why our country allows you to be monetarily compensated for anything said by anyone that you don't agree with. It's getting a bit rediculous. Way to set a good example for the kids. If you don't like someone's opinion of you, you can always sue them for whatever they've got.

     

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  14.  
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    Kathy, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 7:50am

    As far as the school resorting to the legal system is concerned, well, take a good look at the name on the school. The Skutt family is one of the wealthiest in Omaha, having made their fortune with Mutual of Omaha insurance Company. While I don't have any specifics regarding board representation, I'm sure there are at least a few Skutts sitting on it. The Skutts have always been very low key about bandying their name around, hence it was a surprise to a lot of people in Omaha that they decided to allow the school be named after them. It doesn't surprise me one bit that they would sue to keep their pristine reputation intact, even if this is an "attack" on the school, and not them personally. I also wouldn't be surprised if the lawyer who filed the suit isn't also on the board or connected with the school in some way.

    Omaha is a very Catholic town and Skutt is a relatively new school, in the scheme of things. That the Archdiocese itself runs it speaks volumes to those of us who came up in the Catholic school system there. Most of the Catholic high schools in town are run by orders (Creighton Prep, for example, is run by the Jesuits as an adjunct to Creighton University) and have built up large endowments and extremely loyal followings over the years. The archdiocese has several large failures at running high schools under its belt and Skutt is just its most recent attempt. They placed the school in a growing section of town and they've made it co-ed, which should be in its favor. Yet, there's a lot of competition for the same pool of students---and yes, the tuition at any of these schools is more expensive than it would be to attend the University of Nebraska or any other state run university---and Skutt is the low man on the totem pole. Combined with the potential damage to the Skutt name, I could see where they would see it as extremely damaging to have someone complaining about the cost of tuition and the level of scholarship in a Wikipedia page, even if in reality it isn't.

     

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  15.  
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    Lay Person, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 7:55am

    Lame

    The school is in fricken Omaha Nebraska!

    Does the school really think that a town of ~400,000 people doesn't know which schools are good or bad?

    If the school's good, it's not that big of a deal...if they're bad they have something to fight about.

    It's quite simple really...the school knows they suck and are trying to minimize that knowledge. The higher ideal (if they were any good) would be to ignore the slander and continue to produce a quality Catholic education that may include...I don't know...maybe..."turning the other cheek."

     

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  16.  
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    Wire Cramped, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 8:01am

    Ummm...???

    Turn the other cheek? I am apologizing to everyone for the misbehavior of any and all "christian" establishments. They of all people should know that if its going to be handled right then some prayer and maybe an alternate posting or corretion was enough after that ..... turn the other cheek?

    I forgive them for making this school and church look like any other corporation, I pray they can find a way to recover some faith and move on.

     

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  17.  
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    Uh-Non-Uh-Muss, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 8:37am

    The Truth is worse than the accusation

    In an article on http://tentpegs.blogspot.com, The author made a comment that he had been accused of doing something wrong. When confronted by some leaders, he stopped them and replied that he didn't want to hear what was said. Then he responded that what ever was in that accusation, whether true or not, could not even come close to the truth of what he has done in his life. Moral of the story - No one is perfect, no business, no state, no city... nothing. In all things, you must choose what you are willing to live with and accept. I choose to not accept hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, heat and instead I chose snow and cold. What will you choose?

     

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  18.  
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    Mike-hater, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 10:16am

    TECHDIRT HAS JUMPED THE SHARK!

    OK, enough's enough.

    Your "corporate intelligence" is weak and fluffed.

    Mike,

    YOU NEED TO FIND A NEW HOBBY.

    If your claim to fame is the STREISAND EFFECT, then you need to spend more time doing something more productive, like masturbating.

    I'm dropping you from my RSS feeds.

    I'll have to tell everyone that I originally recommended your site to that YOU JUMPED THE SHARK.

    Anyone else have any other _WORTHWHILE_ independent tech news sites they'd like to recommend?

     

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  19.  
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    Raekwon, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 10:24am

    Techdirt has Jumped the Shark.

    Find a new hobby like using obscure web references to sound internet saavy? EYYY Fonzie. So long.

     

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  20.  
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    Aren't fanboys great?, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 10:56am

    Kiss my pucker!

    Maybe I should bring up the STREISAND EFFECT again?

     

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  21.  
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    Starky, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 12:09pm

    I'm just glad that the school isn't suing wikipedia. That's one step in the right direction. The next step is learning not to sue.

     

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  22.  
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    Mark Devlin, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 10:35pm

    Why didn't they just edit the article?

    Because some of us dont want to spend every hour on Wikipedia trying to correct the misinformation of others.

     

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  23.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 25th, 2006 @ 1:55am

    Re:


    Because some of us dont want to spend every hour on Wikipedia trying to correct the misinformation of others.


    Wait, let me get this straight... you'd rather waste countless hours and dollars *suing* than simply deleting the false statements?

    No one says you need to "spend every hour." In fact, that's a silly pointless strawman argument that makes no sense. The point is that *if* you do discover something that's wrong, just correct it. Don't sue.

     

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  24.  
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    doubledoh, Jul 25th, 2006 @ 4:07pm

    vandalism?

    "It's (sic) tuition is ridiculously high, too. Not to mention you get an awful education there. They put more emphasis on sports than they do education. No wonder almost all kids there are complete idiots."

    I don't see how any of these statements can be considered libel anyway. Each are unverifiable opinions that use unquantifiable adjectives. Besides, the allegedly libeled school IS a Catholic school--it's not far fetched to assume that the student body consists of "complete idiots." They do after all, believe that some imaginary supreme being created the universe 6,000 years ago, and that preventing disease and unwanted pregnacies with condoms is "wrong."

    That's completely idiotic if you ask me.

     

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  25.  
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    WhippyGoldberg, Feb 23rd, 2007 @ 3:35am

    Re: WHAT PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND

    In other words, it's better to be brain-dead cowards who let retards win and who replace action with permissiveness.

    If that really worked in real life, I could sit on the couch and let the spiders take care of cleaning my house. You're an idiot. Go shoot yourself and stop taking jobs away from people who deserve them.

     

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  26.  
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    WhippyGoldberg, Feb 23rd, 2007 @ 3:39am

    Re:

    Or maybe just maybe... people who put their idiot blind faith in a website that clearly doesn't work and by doing so, supporting the slander that it dishes out daily towards all walks of life, both companies AND INDIVIDUALS without any consequence makes us ignorant.

    Letting Wikipedia exist is a way of eroding our individual rights. If we can't sue them for slander, then eventually who can we sue? At that rate, pretty people will be slandered and have NO recourse whatsoever as they lose their job and house over it.

    Again, Wiki-masturbators are idiots and should be put away into an insane asylum for medication that they clearly need.

     

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  27.  
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    WhippyGoldberg, Feb 23rd, 2007 @ 3:41am

    Streisand effect = "I'm too lazy and stupid to support my individual rights"

     

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  28.  
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    Matthew, Jul 2nd, 2008 @ 10:47am

    Why Sue Over Wikipedia Posts?

    There are many reasons to sue, and you may decide to do so, but not at this time. Frankly, that project Wikipedia is no encyclopedia by any real academic standards; it is a board where losers can post their psychobabble free. It is not credible. It is not a journal, it is not created by people who are proved to be who they claim (the famous Essjay outing proved that scenario true.) The facts are clear, they do not legally verify identity of the people who post; any fool can go on there, as they do, and pretend to be scientists, doctors, editors and authors. No academic scholarly encyclopedia works that way, because it would not be taken seriously. No serious intellectual would waste his or her time on such a thing. Ask yourself what credible editor, author, or reviewer would sit on there and partake of it? Wikipedia currently may not be able to be sued, under the law right now, yet that appears it may well soon change with the advancement of this medium and the libel taking place across the board. Recently, in a different matter EBay was reported in the WSJ to be involved in the French courts over "allowing" auctions of fake goods. I see a comparison. Do they not also claim to be simply a site that allows one person to do business with another? What is the difference? Look into the outcome of that EBay scenario, if that isn't leading toward legal change of liability in my view of the libel issue against site owners, I don't know what is. Laws change, and when the laws change on this issue of such sites as Wikipedia, I foresee the law coming down hard, and a rush on class action lawsuits to follow. Then they will all pay. So why not just simply document, and leave the libel against you on their site - they keep all that deleted crap - real smart move but it wouldn't surprise me when the laws change to watch how fast that stuff is shredded. In the meanwhile, the posters can be tracked, and sued right now - but frankly it wouldn't be worth the effort to sue such people, who most likely do not even hold a job (successful people do not sit all day, every day on a site doing such things, check some of those people, they sit every day, all day, on there. That type of behaviour is the hallmark of a problem by any valid psychological standard - the sad and pathetic part is that the same posters on Wikipedia don't realize it.)

     

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  29.  
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    doubledoh'sadouche, Jan 3rd, 2009 @ 8:51am

    Re: vandalism?

    Show's what U know about jurisprudence OR Catholicism, Double-Dip-Shit. I won't even waste my time correcting you.
    Actually, as I sit in my expensively appointed Office, courtesy of a great Catholic education,..Perhaps I will. God knows , as wealthy as I am, I have ample free time to do so.
    1. Catholics NEVER said the Universe (Or Earth) is @ 6,000 years old.
    2.Forget Condoms (A broken one of which undoubtedly explains your existance-limited gene selection), only "complete idiots" have sex with ANYONE they aren't intimately familiar with
    3. Premarital sex produces the social ills of our day-to wit; Poverty and crime from the single Parent home, and a lack of respect for life due to Abortion (Although perhaps YOUR Mother should've received special dispensation)
    4. That "Imaginary Being" is alot more believable than your belief in a Universe without cause (Over your head, I know)
    5. The first, and still the BEST schools all have their beginnings as religious schools.
    6. Trade Libel is the unauthorized printing of statements made with a reasonably demonstrable understanding that a person or entity would be offended or harmed financially thereby, without PROOF of the veracity of such statements validity
    7. In your case, Double-Dope, I wouldn't worry, the Church is too large a class to be covered under this law, which, of course, is why slanderous people like you (Also too large a class) commit these Cowardly assaults.

     

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