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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.

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  1. identicon
    Rob Miles, 26 Mar 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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