Honda Tried To Get Jalopnik To Dox Commenter, Delete Posts, Meets The Streisand Effect Instead
from the hi-honda dept
Criticism is part of life, of course, and I tend to believe that people show their true selves most transparently when they show how they deal with criticism. Unfortunately, we’ve covered entirely too many stories involving people and companies responding to online criticism poorly here at Techdirt. Typically, these unfortunate responses amount to trying to censor the criticism, but it can more dangerously involve the attempted silencing of journalism as well as threats of legal action against those making the critical comments.
Too many times, websites and web services cave to this sort of censorship. But not everyone. Gawker Media, about whom I could fill these pages with criticism, appears to be pushing back on once such attempt levied against its site Jalopnik. Apparently, car-maker Honda took a negative view of some comments made at the site, purportedly by a Honda employee. For some reason, Honda decided that this distinction meant that it could not only silence the comments, but that it should receive help from the site in outing the commenter. The whole thing starts off, as seems so often the case, with some rather mild criticism in the form of a comment.
In December, a commenter calling him or herself HondAnonymous, posted a string of comments on these posts claiming to be a technician at Honda’s research and development facility. People on the Internet make claims like that all the time, but HondAnonymous seemed able to back them up with actual information about the development of the NSX and other cars. The most interesting bits were complaints about the NSX’s Continental tires (“they are garbage”) and how newer Honda engines have an issue “with the studs on the cat either backing out of the head or snapping altogether.”
Interesting, if not earth-shattering. A lot of it sounds like normal car development. The first one is a complaint we’ve seen in various early NSX tests, and the last is probably a recall waiting to happen. But earlier this month, Honda’s lawyers contacted us to say that information posted by HondAnonymous “is confidential information owned by Honda R&D Americas, Inc., and posts by that user of such confidential information breaches a contractual obligation of confidentiality owed to Honda R&D Americas, Inc.”
As Jalopnik notes, it wasn’t them that posted the information. Instead, it was a commenter within the open commenting system Gawker Media uses. Regardless, apparently Honda’s attorneys requested not only that all comments by the user be taken down immediately, but they also requested that the site turn over all identifying information about the user to them so that they could hunt down the leak. Think about this for just a moment and you’ll see the problem: Honda wants Jalopnik’s help in figuring out who this commenter is, while also demanding that the content be taken down because it violates a contractual confidentiality agreement. However, Jalopnik isn’t obligated in any way to help Honda, regardless of what private contracts may or may not have been violated.
In typical Gawker fashion, Jalopnik gleefully is posting about all this, Streisanding the issue back into the news when it might otherwise have died off quickly.
It’s pretty egregious for a corporation to try to bully a news organization into deep-sixing comments from its own readers. It’s far more egregious to threaten to subpoena us if we don’t dox one of those readers. The good news is we couldn’t dox HondAnonymous even if we somehow wanted to. He or she used an anonymous burner account, and we don’t track passwords, logins, or IP addresses for any of our users. HondAnonymous’ posts will stay up.
To Honda, or any other automaker: If you would like us to delete the comments of our readers or expose their identities (which, again, we can’t do anyway) again, please let me know! I am more than happy to drag your intimidation tactics into the public eye for all your customers and prospective buyers to see. Govern yourselves accordingly.
So, in trying to silence and out a critic, Honda instead finds themselves the subject of reports about the attempted silencing of the critic, whose criticism is once more in the public light. Bang up job, lawyers!