Columnist Claims Italy's Google Verdict Makes Sense

from the someone-edited-that? dept

Ted Rall is a columnist/cartoonist, who, a couple years ago, wrote one of the most ridiculous opinion pieces we've seen in a long time -- suggesting that the answer to newspapers' current economic woes is that they should all take their websites down. That column was so full of economic and legal ignorance I thought there was a good chance that it was actually satire -- but people insisted he was serious. Now reader Mandy alerts us to a new column from Rall that again is so devoid of basic logic that I wonder if it's satire. This time he's standing way out on a limb arguing that Italy got it right in finding three Google execs criminally liable for a video some kids posted to Google Video.

Rall's reasoning once again defies logic. He seems unable to comprehend the difference between a publisher and a tool or service provider. Instead, he just insists that Google (and any other online service provider) should be forced to carefully review and fact check every piece of content uploaded before it can be available. Apparently, he doesn't quite recognize what he's asking for. On YouTube alone, more than 20 hours of video are uploaded every minute. And that's just YouTube. Rall also suggests that every blog post, every Tweet and every Facebook message should first be reviewed by an editor before it can be posted.

I think this really goes back to Rall's previous clueless column. He can't stand competition, so his solution is to put in place ridiculous free speech destroying rules and regulations to effectively kill off the internet, because someone might misuse it. His argument is based on the scenario that what if he ran a story falsely accusing you of being a drug-addicted child pornographer. He claims -- falsely -- that if he just published it online, there's nothing you can do about it. He later admits he's lying by saying you could sue him, but he brushes that off by saying no one would sue him because he has no money. Of course, people sue for libel all the time -- even those with no money.

But the really scary thing is that Rall seems to think that basically destroying the freedom to communicate and to express yourself online makes sense, just because the tool might possibly be used to spread a false statement. Does he not recognize the unintended consequences of this? Does he not realize that his "suggestion" for fixing the internet is effectively how much of China's internet censorship program works? Does he not think there might be more effective ways of dealing with such situations? For example, if Rall were to falsely accuse you of being a drug-addicted child pornographer, and it's clearly bogus, then you have an opportunity to fight back, and point out that Rall is wrong, destroy his reputation, and make sure he never gets another job again. Why not let free speech combat free speech?

Instead, Rall seems terrified of free speech, and would prefer that it only come from the "professionals" like himself.

Filed Under: communication, editors, filters, free speech, italy, ted rall
Companies: google


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  1. identicon
    Ted Rall, 9 Mar 2010 @ 8:50am

    Google Italy Verdict

    What I am questioning is the entire profit model of companies like Google, YouTube, etc.

    Ease of posting and publishing online is extremely alluring. I love it! But if you pull back from the reality of the Internet as we currently know it and imagine how it might have developed differently, you might see that this is a way for Google and other companies to shirk off responsibility--the definition of a corporation--for the content that gets posted.

    What this has done is create something that never existed before: the ability for a libeler to widely disseminate, potentially to hundreds of millions of readers, their libel.

    You can shrug your shoulders and say, "Oh, well. Tough. Too bad." Or you can counter that the answer to bad free speech is good free speech, which ignores the reality that most people who read the bad free speech will never hear the good free speech. Either way, you're essentially telling victims of libel that their pain and suffering is necessary for "Internet freedom."

    But what if "Internet freedom"--posting whatever you want, anonymously, whenever you want--is really just a morally unsustainable way to pour billions into the pockets of a company?

    I am not "confusing" a publisher with a service provider. Legally, Google *is* a publisher, not a service provider. Not just the Italian court, but a lot of American lawyers, agree. The reason is advertising. They post ads next to content--much of which they steal from newspapers and book publishers, but anyway--which makes them publishers.

    If Google wants to get into the service provider business, they should stop exploiting content for money. They should find some other way to generate income, whether it be subscription fees like the phone company, or whatever.

    Contrary to some commentators here, I can easily imagine a Google that employed tens of thousands of editors to vet material before it appeared online. The National Security Agency intercepts hundreds of millions of communications daily, processes them through the Internet, fax machines, bank wire transfer services and telephone lines, and investigates those suspected of terrorism and other anti-state offenses, all with a full-time staff of about 20,000 people.

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