If It's On The Internet... Blame The Service Provider (Especially If It's Craigslist)

from the logical-difficulties dept

There's a jokey saying that people like to spout when they hear stories of people believing the most ridiculous things found on the internet: "If it's on the internet, it must be true." That saying certainly showed up in the story earlier this week about people ransacking and looting a house in Oregon after someone put up a post on Craigslist saying that the house had been abandoned and everything was free for the taking. When the owner came back to the house telling people to stop, they pointed to the Craigslist ad as "proof" that they could continue their looting. Hence, "if it's on the internet, it must be true."

However, in the aftermath of this event (which is actually a copycat from a similar event nearly a year ago), we're seeing a different, but perhaps equally as common, fallacy come out: If it's on the internet, blame the service provider, rather than those actually responsible (okay, it's not quite as pithy). This seems especially true when it comes to Craigslist. Remember, Craigslist has been blamed for discriminatory posts as well as many other illegal things found on the site... including child prostitution. It's not just Craigslist, of course, but for some reason it's extra common with the site. So, it should come as no surprise to already see some asking if Craigslist should be responsible.

I'm trying to figure out why so many people gravitate towards blaming the service provider, rather than whoever was actually responsible for the crime (in this case, the guy who posted the claim as well as the people who stole stuff form the guy). There are three potential thoughts that come to mind. The first is that they go after the service provider because that's easier. Fortunately, the law isn't supposed to attack the easiest target, but who's actually responsible. The second is what I like to call The Steve Dallas defense after an old, old, old Bloom County cartoon where lawyer Steve Dallas explains why he's suing Nikon after Sean Penn beat him up for taking a paparazzi photo. It can be summarized as: just blame whoever has the most money. The third option might really just be a repeat of the first, but it's that people still see the internet as new and confusing, and find that it's too complicated to parse out the nuances of the different roles of different players online. So in trying to parcel out blame, they work backwards to the first recognizable player.

People would never blame the telephone company for an extortion scam using the telephone. And they wouldn't blame Ford for making a getaway car used in a bank heist. Yet, they want to blame Craigslist for one of many postings on the site? If a crime happens on the internet... blame the service provider.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Griper, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 1:54pm

    It seems to me they want to blame the "packager". If I go to Taco Bell and get sick from the tainted food I blame Taco Bell but they don't grow and harvest their own food, they buy from suppliers. They could see the same situation here.

     

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      Son of Griper, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:30pm

      Re:

      Poor analogy. Taco Bell people could have mishandled the food, or it may have been handled by an infectious individual.

       

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      James, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:31pm

      Re:

      I disagree. In the case of taco bell, they have the due diligence of making sure that what they sell is fit for human consumption. It's even regulated by the government that they inspect their food for safety. Similarly, car companies put their product through rigorous testing for safety and you could sue them if it turned out that something in the car failed and was the cause of you being hurt, but you couldn't sue the car company if you were robbed and their car was the gettaway car, and you couldn't sue Taco Bell if someone threw their food in your face and you lost an eye. This is really a difference of where liability lies, and more often then not you can't hold the provider responsible if you use a product for something other than it was intended to be used for, only could you blame them if they did not make the product suitable for what it is intended to be used for.

       

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      drax, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:37pm

      Re:

      In response to the Taco Bell reference...

      Go to taco bell with your own beef and content. Put together your own taco with these things, just do it inside their building. Now give this self-made taco bell to the next person you see on the street. They'll get sick. Now if they sue taco-bell instead of you, we have a comparable example.

       

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      drax, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:37pm

      Re:

      In response to the Taco Bell reference...

      Go to taco bell with your own beef and content. Put together your own taco with these things, just do it inside their building. Now give this self-made taco bell to the next person you see on the street. They'll get sick. Now if they sue taco-bell instead of you, we have a comparable example.

       

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        Griper, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 3:40pm

        Re: Re:

        The point is that the general public sees Craig's List in the same light as a physical vendor. That is why they want to sue them.

         

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    Matt, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 1:57pm

    hmm, kinda

    I'd say that additionally that the circle of power leans far more towards corporations than private citizens: AKA it is much more expensive to find an individual who did something/is responsible than it is to sue a corporation....as far as resources required, as soon as it leaves small claims court and goes to bigger courts.

     

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    BlowURmindBowel, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:01pm

    Well...

    Yeah but whatever you get from Tacobell they would probably just turn around and sue the appropriate supplier for 2x what you got from them in the first place.

    Not to mention the fact that your analogy is terribly inaccurate, Craigslist has noting to do with producing the posts, simply providing a forum for them. That would be like Tacobell having nothing to do with producing or preparing the food that made you sick; they simply provided the air conditioned building with chairs and tables, but specifically not the food...

     

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      Griper, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:35pm

      Re: Well...

      I never said that they produce the ads. I said the public might see it as the same because they present the ads they collect and present them to users.

      From the public's point of view Craig's List could be seen as a vender themselves even though they only provide a service. You can still hold a service provider responsible if they are negligent. In this case it would be a stretch.

       

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      Noah, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 4:50pm

      Re: Well...

      A more apt analogy would be if you got sick from Taco Bell food at a mall's food court, and you sue the owners of the mall.

       

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        Rob Miles, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

        Almost, but not quite

        A mall opens its parking lot to any and every body, allowing anybody who wants to sell stuff a place to do it. Food vendors show up, the mall says "hey, it's not up to us to make sure the vendors are selling food that won't kill you; we just provide the space."

        Now you get food poisoning from a vendor who claims to be Taco Bell, but it turns out they aren't. By the time you're sick, the fake TB vendors are long gone, with no records of who they were or where they were from. The mall management *could* have prevented this by not allowing a free-for-all, or by requiring some kind of verification of who you are, but chose not to be involved in any of that nonsense.

        Now who do you sue?

         

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          Rose M. Welch, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 9:27pm

          Re: Almost, but not quite

          You don't sue anyone because suing people is not the answer to every damn problem you have in your entire life.

          Everything in life is a risk. Getting out of bed is a risk. Stepping out of the tub. Eating food from your own kitchen, or anyone else's. Having sex is a risk, going to the doctor is a risk, EVERYTHING is a risk.

          So in your scenario, the person with food poisoning has to pull up thier big girl panties and deal with it. Poor them, no one to sue! What will they do now?

          Maybe they'll grow up.

           

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          DanC, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 8:17am

          Re: Almost, but not quite

          Well, if the mall operators are intelligent, they have disclaimers posted (much like craigslist does) that informs people to beware of scams and to use caution.

           

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    Mark, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:14pm

    It's quite a reach to hold Craigslist blameless. They are giving matches to arsonists: "Hey, buddy, got a light?" "Why sure, we're a service provider, don'tcha know."

     

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      James, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:35pm

      Re:

      That analogy could be applied to just about any service. There are countless ways to use anything for other than what it was intended, should we just get rid of everything because it CAN be used to hurt other people? Maybe we should just throw the general population into a giant padded room while we're at it.

       

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      buckykat, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 3:34pm

      Re: Mark

      the extent of your wrongheadedness astounds me. that's like (using your own bad metaphor) suing a matchbook manufacturer for arson.

       

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    simon, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:16pm

    what ISP they sue is problem...

    if they sue the one who's hosting Craigslist or to sue altogether the ISP's of the one who posted and the ones of the people who went on and looted house ....

    i think that guy should sue them all then take the companies who provided the cable structure/wi-fi/satellite links and then his lawyer for loosing this case too...

     

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    Scote, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:16pm

    Reminds me of a dumb summer camp skit:

    A man is looking for a lost wallet by the light of a street-lamp. A passerby offers to help and asks, "Where'd you loose it"

    "Over there" pointing to a dark place down the street.

    "Then why are you looking here?"

    "The light's better"

    Of course people are going after Craigslist, the light's better.

     

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    James, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:20pm

    Idiots

    The Nigerian 419 scam wouldn't even be known about if there weren't a plethora of idiots using the internet. This guy is just lucky he was able to find out what was happening before everyone completely disappeared with all of his things.

    These people should be ashamed of themselves for not using some common sense.

     

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    Reader, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:36pm

    Now That The Newspapers are Dead......

    Craigslist has essentially replaced daily newspapers for classified advertising. In many ways, that's a good thing. What Craigslist doesn't do, that newspapers used to do is charge for ads, which had a filtering effect on scams and misleading ads. And, if Craigslist is not going to take any responsibility for what they allow to be published on their platform, then it will become a place to avoid.

    Many nightclubs charge a cover charge, and patrons often believe it's because the management is greedy. Maybe they are, but cover charges have a way of keeping out the crap crowd, making the club scene safer and more enjoyable.

    Craigslist needs to take some responsibility for what they have unleashed on the internet, by simply charging for ads and requiring proof of who is placing the ad. Otherwise, it will become as useless as the newspapers it has supplanted.

     

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      Alimas, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 5:13am

      Re: Now That The Newspapers are Dead......

      Are you serious? Clubs tend to be among the best places to find the seediest least stable characters in a city. Having $5+ on hand doesn't exactly qualify as someone being safe.

      And like a club, Craigslist merely provides a service to which anyone can flock.

       

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    DMM, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:40pm

    It just reinforces an old saying ...

    People is stupid.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:40pm

    "And they wouldn't blame Ford for making a getaway car used in a bank heist."

    Wanna bet? I know of a case where there was an accident between a minivan and a semi truck. The family of the people in the minivan sued a host of people and organizations, including Dodge (Chrysler Corp.) for making the minivan that was involved in the accident. And the thing was, the driver of the minivan was the one at fault in the incident.

    No matter how ridiculous notion, you will find somebody somewhere that would be willing to sue over it. We have become a society that believes no individual is responsible for his own actions, and this is the result.

    Oh, and just fyi, I don't recall exactly how that case turned out, but I'm pretty sure the judge threw out the ridiculous lawsuits.

     

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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Mar 26th, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Hmmm...next big web 2.0 Idea???

    Social networking for stupid thieves manipulated by clever pranksters while we all watch.

    First Post:
    Hey guys...I was just driving down the Dixie Highway (31) by the Federal Gold Repository and saw a sign on the fence that said "Too Much Gold! Climb on in and get yours now!" I also saw one guy climb out with some gold and pass it to a friend. He then tore down the sign and climbed back in for some more! As soon as I pick up my boys from little league, I'm gonna head on back there for sure.

     

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    GHysnon, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 3:04pm

    Well Poo

    I'mma gonna sue my mom for birthing me into this world full of morons!!!!

     

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    Le Blue Dude, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 4:03pm

    Pithyer way of saying it

    Here's a pithy way of saying it. "On the internet blame the messenger, not the message writer"

     

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    Finally, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 4:16pm

    It's about time

    I'm glad that people are finally starting to see how unrealistic it is to blame the provider of goods and services for the misdeeds of their customers.

    I've had to deal with warning stamps on guns for years because of idiots who can't grasp the fact that they'll blow big holes in things that they're pointed at and the lawyers who push their lawsuits in court.

     

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    Jake, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 9:54pm

    I can get behind the idea of compelling service providers to be more proactive in enforcing their terms of service -YouTube's attitude in particular irritates me no end- but I certainly wouldn't call them an accomplice.

     

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    James, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 10:40pm

    STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES

    If someone is too stupid and can't use a thimble full of common sense then they shouldn't be allowed on the internet. Enough of the comparisons. The stupid morons out there won't ever get it! Craigslist is a service. They provide online adverts. If someone is an ass enough to post something like free items at an abandoned house, AND stupid morons actually believe him, both the poster and the people that showed up should be found and charged. Posters can be tracked. It's not easy sometimes, but sometimes takes a little surfing. Instead of trying to get even at someone by posting false ads, just confront the person and get it over and done with.

     

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    Tom, Mar 28th, 2008 @ 5:01am

    Who ya gonna sue...

    Who will get sued for the deaths that occur if I were to come home and find 30 people rummaging through my belongings? I would open fire to protect my property, and I'd have every right in doing so. Is the blood on craigslist?

    Just a little warning to future internet idiots. If it looks to good to be true...

     

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