CNN Claims 'Something Must Be Done' About Anonymous Bloggers

from the yes,-but... dept

If you follow political news even slightly, by now, you’ve probably heard about the whole Shirley Sherrod incident, involving an edited video of a talk she gave, which took her quotes out of context and made it appear she was saying exactly the opposite of what she was actually saying. The original video appeared on Andrew Breitbart’s website, so it seemed kind of odd in discussing this incident, that two CNN anchors spent the majority of a video segment attacking anonymity on the internet. The first two minutes just complain about the internet in general, aided by a typically cranky Andrew Keen, but after the Keen segment, Kyra Phillips and John Roberts focus on the fact that people won’t put their name behind what they say online:

Of course, anonymity had nothing to do with this incident at all. All of the players were known, so it seems odd to pick on anonymity. On top of that, both Phillips and Roberts seem woefully clueless on the subject of anonymity and liability. Roberts notes that Keen told him about companies that try to ruin other companies by posting false information online. What companies? He doesn’t say. Where’s the proof that this is happening? He doesn’t say. Why the companies who have had falsehoods spread about them by other companies haven’t sued for defamation? He doesn’t say. In fact, Phillips falsely implies that there are no remedies for this, and suggests it’s ridiculous that people have “freedom of defamation.” She goes on to say that something needs to be done, and implies that the law needs to change, saying “something’s going to have to be done legally,” and that there needs to be “accountability.” Um…. except defamation laws already allow people to sue over anonymous falsehoods. You would think that newscasters arguing over this point would know the basics like that.

But an even bigger point, as raised by Glenn Greenwald, is the fact that CNN relies on anonymous quotes all the time. It doesn’t take long to find articles on CNN that quote anonymous officials. For them to rage against “cowards” who won’t stand behind what they say, and then to regularly quote “anonymous” sources, seems pretty damn hypocritical. Phillips claims anonymity online is “very unfair.” Phillips also attacks the media for “giving anonymous bloggers credit or credibility.” But again, CNN quotes all kinds of anonymous sources all the time.

Later on, Roberts suggests anonymous blogging “has its place” and suggests that place is Iran and North Korea. But not the US. The authors of The Federalist Papers are rolling over in their graves.

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Comments on “CNN Claims 'Something Must Be Done' About Anonymous Bloggers”

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ML says:

Well, but...

Well, your idea that there is already liability in place for anonymous speech is quite misleading in the online context.

First off, as you are obviously aware, CDA 230 shields any intermediary from liability regarding third-party content – meaning that in the US you can allow defamatory comments with no fear of persecution yourself.

Second, you are not forced to retain data or records that would allow a would-be victim to try to locate and identify the anonymous commenter. You probably don’t keep any logs whatsoever.

So riddle me this: with no data retention and full immunity from CDA 230, how will a victim hold anyone liable for anonymous speech?

Simple answer: it will not.

And yes I do see the irony that I am commenting anonymously here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well, but...

“First off, as you are obviously aware, CDA 230 shields any intermediary from liability regarding third-party content – meaning that in the US you can allow defamatory comments with no fear of persecution yourself.”

Which is good, liability is properly placed.

“Second, you are not forced to retain data or records that would allow a would-be victim to try to locate and identify the anonymous commenter. You probably don’t keep any logs whatsoever.”

Techdirt, and most blogs, do keep logs. Keeping such data is good for … I don’t know … banning spammers. In case you didn’t know, the net is full of spammers and it helps to keep track of data to keep them out, otherwise conversations here and on every blog would be impossible, especially here where there are no required image to text transcriptions to type in before posting.

and by and large the net the way it is works great for everyone but big media, which is the only reason they’re complaining. They just want a gatekeeper (as is mentioned in that video) because they want to be the gatekeeper and the first amendment issue is just an obstacle they have to find their way around. They only want the govt to intervene to destroy their competing media, can’t have anyone arguing a disagreeing message you know.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Well, but...

And in the US, the mainstream media has been protecting the identity of it’s sources for – well, for as long at the first amendment has been around.

But let’s talk about your specific points:

“First off, as you are obviously aware, CDA 230 shields any intermediary from liability regarding third-party content – meaning that in the US you can allow defamatory comments with no fear of persecution yourself.”

Absolutely correct. Should the telephone company be liable for you making defamatory speech over the phone? How about the US post office if you send a letter? Oh, and the department of transportation if you are yelling it from the street. Holding a service provider responsible for something they have no way to control is no different than these situations.

“Second, you are not forced to retain data or records that would allow a would-be victim to try to locate and identify the anonymous commenter”

We will ignore the second sentence – TechDirt keeps logs, Mike has told us that. Once again, is the phone company forced to record all phone calls? Should a meeting hall operator be forced to record all meetings when someone rents their hall? Interestingly, ISP’s are probably the most diligent service providers when it comes to keeping logs of activity – because they actually can do it and it benefits their business. If you asked other real-world providers to keep logs as detailed as ISP’s keep, you would burdon industries out of existence. Forcing someone to log activity is just creating a system in which the government can spy on you and is something that has historically ALWAYS been misused.

“with no data retention and full immunity from CDA 230, how will a victim hold anyone liable for anonymous speech”

The same way they always have. If you went into the street 50 years ago and told everyone that passed that a company was selling snake oil (when they weren’t), that company would have to investigate to find out who you are. If a local newspaper had reported on the story, they may have the anonymous person’s name. The defamed company could ask a court to force the newspaper to give up the name. The newspaper ‘may’ comply. Then the person can be sued.

How is that different than what you can do now?

ML says:

Re: Re: Well, but...

Oh I am not against CDA 230 immunity – quite the contrary, I think it is one of the reasons blogs and other platforms have come to exist.

But your comparison is not really accurate. Retaining IP logs is very different from recording telephone conversations. A proper analogy would be telephone companies keeping logs of which numbers have called other numbers – something they already do.

In any case, I am just playing devil’s advocate here, by pointing out there is little a victim of online wrongdoing can do to find the proper culprit. Some argue that is a small price to pay for the freedom to publish anything online, and I tend to agree, despite the hard cases.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh my god. What would happen if anybody ever published a lie? Maybe a war on Iraq? Maybe ACTA? Maybe the Digital Economy Bill? Maybe the DCMAs?

These pompous mainstream media pricks posing as heralds of truth are unbelievable. They talk about what is the american values, what we all want in everybody’s name. They don’t know squat.

Anonymous Coward says:

If anonymous bloggers just want attention why would they be anonymous? With respect to credibility, why should she be given (more) credibility merely because she can assert her own credibility? To the extent that people are given credibility it’s because their argument makes sense. It’s whether or not the argument has credibility. Her problem is that she can’t withstand competing media that disagrees with her and she can’t withstand competing media period. The only thing that’s crazy here is her hatred for free speech.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Fear and Lothing of Planet Blogger

The removal of anonymity online has more to do with control than anything else. More than likely its hype to put the universal and internet ID concept front and center.

From the reporters perspective, this blog hatred has less to do with anonymity, and more to do with them being in a dying business. Fear and uncertainty are rampant in the news business. The trends we see in newspapers have begun to carry over to TV news, advertising is becomes more internet centric. The sheer quantity of news resources available, make them less and less relevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fear and Lothing of Planet Blogger

“The removal of anonymity online has more to do with control than anything else”

I totally agree. From their perspective, the people have had _True_ freedom of speech for too long.

It is a real pain in the ass when you make totally bogus claims and 10 seconds later half of the Internet is already slamming your claims and kicking your weak ideas around. Big media hates that.

It is a fire that burns them inside like the heat of a thousand Suns: That the average guy can have an opinion and that they might actually be “wrong”!

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fear and Lothing of Planet Blogger

“It is a real pain in the ass when you make totally bogus claims and 10 seconds later half of the Internet is already slamming your claims and kicking your weak ideas around. Big media hates that.”

Extending that out to Mikes belief that you have to engage your audience, and my belief that people want to have their voices heard and contribute to the conversation (news in this case). You have one of the primary failure points of current big media newspapers, and TV news.

For the news outlets it is business as usual. Most news outlets have an agenda. They repost press releases, and biased studies done by industry as fact. If you look at most media outlets websites they either dont allow, or seriously moderate, commenting. This prevents them from being shown to be wrong or biased. I can understand this from a business perspective. The more they are proven wrong the less people will read what they have to say. So they have two choices. Change the way they do reporting to be factual, checked, not biased, and allow both good and bad commenting. Or have a slow errosion of readership and failure of the business. Personally I believe they will go for the business as usual route, followed by getting laws enacted to protect them from the big bad blogger.

“That the average guy can have an opinion and that they might actually be “wrong”!”

They know they are wrong in alot of cases. They just dont want people to point out that they are spinning the story in which ever direction they are biased.

steve says:

Sent this to CNN

Freedom of Speech given to us from the Almighty and Codified in the United States Constitution gives us the right to express our opinions.
Freedom of Speech

An opinion put on the local civil bulletin board anonymously is also a right of Free Speech.

What makes an electronic bulletin board any different?

Why would award winning broadcast journalists call for laws abridging the peoples right to Freedom of Speech?

With respect to the whole Sherrod affair, the only group that has any culpability here is the NAACP and THE White House.

The NAACP as they have the full video.

The White House for being reactionary.

Richard (profile) says:

I’m not entirely familiar with mass media in the U.S, So usually I keep away from commenting on stories that relate to the afore mentioned, however this time I cant help myself.

1st point – Credibility is bestowed by the masses, i.e something or someone gains credibility if they or it is believed, be that mass media or a. anonymous. Either is capable of spouting bull that most people can smell from a mile off, equally either is capable of presenting a carefully researched story.

2nd point – The only difference between mass media and bloggers / the internet community is that mass media can afford to pay the fines courts award for deformation / libel cases.

So I was going to talk about freedom of speech etc, however that already seems well covered and i couldn’t help but have a dig at the media for being massive hypocrites and for my evidence I will simply point to –

interval (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The US media, as well as media elsewhere (Are you listening Al Jazeera???) are nothing but hypocrites. What’s ‘er name up there is begging for regulation of anonymous commentators yet when they are asked for sources for news… woah, back off. No one asked the media outlets to run with this Shirley Sherrod story before they checked the facts of the thing, now they’re all running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Idiots. They blew it, pure and simple. Now they look like a high school new paper. Worse even.

Adrian Lopez says:

The news media have egg on their faces

The news media took Breitbart’s video and ran with it, taking the guy at his word without bothering to check the facts. CNN wishes to divert the public’s attention away from this by blaming the Internet instead of blaming themselves as part of the media that gave such visibility to Breitbart’s misleading video.

Silence DOGOOD says:



I prefer the following Abstract from the London Journal to any Thing of my own, and therefore shall present it to your Readers this week without any further Preface.

‘Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know.

‘This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech; a Thing terrible to Publick Traytors.

‘This Secret was so well known to the Court of King Charles the First, that his wicked Ministry procured a Proclamation, to forbid the People to talk of Parliaments, which those Traytors had laid aside. To assert the undoubted Right of the Subject, and defend his Majesty’s legal Prerogative, was called Disaffection, and punished as Sedition. Nay, People were forbid to talk of Religion in their Families: For the Priests had combined with the Ministers to cook up Tyranny, and suppress Truth and the Law, while the late King James, when Duke of York, went avowedly to Mass, Men were fined, imprisoned and undone, for saying he was a Papist: And that King Charles the Second might live more securely a Papist, there was an Act of Parliament made, declaring it Treason to say that he was one.

‘That Men ought to speak well of their Governours is true, while their Governours deserve to be well spoken of; but to do publick Mischief, without hearing of it, is only the Prerogative and Felicity of Tyranny: A free People will be shewing that they are so, by their Freedom of Speech.

‘The Administration of Government, is nothing else but the Attendance of the Trustees of the People upon the Interest and Affairs of the People: And as it is the Part and Business of the People, for whose Sake alone all publick Matters are, or ought to be transacted, to see whether they be well or ill transacted; so it is the Interest, and ought to be the Ambition, of all honest Magistrates, to have their Deeds openly examined, and publickly scann’d: Only the wicked Governours of Men dread what is said of them; Audivit Tiberius probra queis lacerabitur, atque perculsus est. The publick Censure was true, else he had not felt it bitter.

‘Freedom of Speech is ever the Symptom, as well as the Effect of a good Government. In old Rome, all was left to the Judgment and Pleasure of the People, who examined the publick Proceedings with such Discretion, & censured those who administred them with such Equity and Mildness, that in the space of Three Hundred Years, not five publick Ministers suffered unjustly. Indeed whenever the Commons proceeded to Violence, the great Ones had been the Agressors.

‘GUILT only dreads Liberty of Speech, which drags it out of its lurking Holes, and exposes its Deformity and Horrour to Day-light. Horatius, Valerius, Cincinnatus, and other vertuous and undesigning Magistrates of the Roman Commonwealth, had nothing to fear from Liberty of Speech. Their virtuous Administration, the more it was examin’d, the more it brightned and gain’d by Enquiry. When Valerius in particular, was accused upon some slight grounds of affecting the Diadem; he, who was the first Minister of Rome, does not accuse the People for examining his Conduct, but approved his Innocence in a Speech to them; and gave such Satisfaction to them, and gained such Popularity to himself, that they gave him a new Name; inde cognomen factum Publicolae est; to denote that he was their Favourite and their Friend — Latae deinde leges — Ante omnes de provocatione ADVERSUS MAGISTRATUS AD POPULUM, Livii, lib. 2. Cap. 8.

‘But Things afterwards took another Turn. Rome, with the Loss of its Liberty, lost also its Freedom of Speech; then Mens Words began to be feared and watched; and then first began the poysonous Race of Informers, banished indeed under the righteous Administration of Titus, Narva, Trajan, Aurelius, &c. but encouraged and enriched under the vile Ministry of Sejanus, Tigillinus, Pallas, and Cleander: Queri libet, quod in secreta nostra non inquirant principes, nisi quos Odimus, says Pliny to Trajan.

‘The best Princes have ever encouraged and promoted Freedom of Speech; they know that upright Measures would defend themselves, and that all upright Men would defend them. Tacitus, speaking of the Reign of some of the Princes above-mention’d, says with Extasy, Rara Temporum felicitate, ubi sentire quae velis, & quae sentias dicere licet: A blessed Time when you might think what you would, and speak what you thought.

‘I doubt not but old Spencer and his Son, who were the Chief Ministers and Betrayers of Edward the Second, would have been very glad to have stopped the Mouths of all the honest Men in England. They dreaded to be called Traytors, because they were Traytors. And I dare say, Queen Elizabeth’s Walsingham, who deserved no Reproaches, feared none. Misrepresentation of publick Measures is easily overthrown, by representing publick Measures truly; when they are honest, they ought to be publickly known, that they may be publickly commended; but if they are knavish or pernicious, they ought to be publickly exposed, in order to be publickly detested.’

Yours, &c.,

out_of_the_blue says:

"it seems odd to pick on anonymity"

It’s *not* if you have an accurate assessment of goals. You’re just plain not *cynical* enough, Mike, but like Lily Tomlin said, you’ll probably never catch up with them.

Roberts and Philips don’t care beans about free speech: their purpose is to promote themselves as the authoritative voices and outlets, and to promote a police state in general. They’re mere stenographers for statements that The Establishment wants out. The contradictions of their position probably don’t even occur to them, and certainly don’t bother their conscience.

Anonymous Coward says:

Whose place is it in Iran?

“Later on, Roberts suggests anonymous blogging “has its place” and suggests that place is Iran and North Korea.”

Yeah, Iran, the very country in which Ahmadinejad did exactly what CNN is preaching. The Iranian government took on these “nasty anonymous bloggers who spread lies” and even outlawed gmail in order to create a “mollahmail” in which everyone has to be identified. Actually, if someone has his place in Iran, it’s those two idiots, not the anonymous bloggers (although they are necessary there too).

Emilio Esteban (user link) says:

Internet Freedom

How is it possible to “seek attention” if your comments are “anonymous”? These two need to get a grip on reality. Half of what these clowns say each day is false or based on their own biassed opinions.

It’s obvious they’re rabid because the internet allows the rest of us to present facts they way we see them. These losers are afraid they won’t be able to brainwash us, hense all the huffing and puffing.

I say, long live internet freedom!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly right.

“The press used to see itself as a gatekeeper, deciding what information is reliable enough to make public. Now there are no gates.”

and they can’t have a world without gates. The true purpose for the FCC’s existence and the required broadcasting licenses was to create information gatekeepers. They started passing these laws under the false pretext that their lack would be a chaotic anarchy and that we are all better off without them. They used to argue for cableco monopolies under the false natural monopoly pretext that without a monopoly no one would ever invest in cable infrastructure under the threat of losing all business to a competitor. But none of that was ever true.

The true purpose was to create information gatekeepers to keep the public ignorant and brainwashed. and now that the Internet has rendered the broadcasting and cableco monopoly arguments indefensible they must argue for a gatekeeper more directly and not under some false pretext that economic factors dictate that we are better off with a small hand full of gatekeepers.

Anonymous Coward says:

One of the more delightful, if it can be called that, things to notice in the ‘report’ is that after their “expert” makes his condenscending remarks about why people mistrust media. References to “conspiracy theories” and so on.

Should CNN and big media, in general, want to know why they’re so mistrusted these days they can start with that segment and identify the condescention and contempt that they hold their audience in.

All while flouting their ignorance about how the Internet works and their self important calls for them to become some kind of gate keeper. I’m not sure I trust that pair ot talking heads with the gate to my back yard!

Peter Blaise Monahon (profile) says:

BlightBart was trying to show the laughter of the NAACP audience as "racist" ... oh well ...

BrightBart (I don’t care how HE spells it, he’s a Simpson any way you look at him) claims he was trying to “focus” on the approving laughter from the NAACP audience as Shirley Sherrod spoke about humoring but not helping a white farmer in need — he was calling the NAACP on their finger pointing of racism elsewhere, ignoring their own racism. It’s a silly point, also out of context, but buried deep now, so it hardly matters. Just saying …

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