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!


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Jay Lahto (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 4:46pm

    Honda?

    If kami can face-palm, I know what Soichiro Honda is doing right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 4:53pm

    Ahhh, "govern yourself accordingly", such a dumb phrase; I miss Prenda.

    That said, way to go Jalopnik. I want to hear about the problems in these vehicles, especially when they're serious enough that the companies feel the need to attempt to suppress the information. You just got a new reader.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Silverstein (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 4:58pm

    Good Job Honda.

    They did an excellent job on confirming the information is true and came from an employee (or similar).

    If it was not true, Honda could not claim that the person who disclosed it violated a confidentiality provision of a contract.

    Some Honda lawyer may be banging his head on his desk when this was pointed out to him/her/it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:06pm

      Re: Good Job Honda.

      Honda could not claim that…
      Why can't Honda just claim anything they want?

      Neither Honda nor their attorneys have any greater duty to make truthful statements than any other corporation or its licensed spokes-mouths.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:32pm

        Re: Re: Good Job Honda.

        Honda can claim, but when they've basically already admitted that the commentator was telling an accurate truth, further lies aren't going to be particularly plausible.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          TechDescartes (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:58pm

          Re: Re: Re: Good Job Honda.

          "You can't Honda the truth!" ~ Jack Nicholson

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 12 Feb 2016 @ 11:32am

          Re: Re: Re: Good Job Honda.

          Honda can claim, but when they've basically already admitted that the commentator was telling an accurate truth ...

          Did they? It may be that what Hondanonymous claimed is untrue so they want to fire his incompetent ass for being ignorant of the company's products' attributes.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Todd Shore (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:49pm

      Re: Good Job Honda.

      Worse, Honda is admitting they don't know who the poster is so they can not in fact point to a particular contract.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:13pm

    This reminds me of how my employer handled a flame war over competing fanboys. A tech who actually likes and uses our product set up a subcatagory on a message board. While answering questions and helping other users a flame war erupted. Corporate bigwigs noticed and intervened by trying to take over the site but had to settle with the subcategory. The logic is based on only those in the pr division can handle social media realm where our products are concerned. The funny thing is the tech was more useful because he understood the problems and could describe real solutions instead of trying to upsell unnecessary addons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 9:41pm

      Re:

      the tech was more useful because he understood the problems and could describe real solutions instead of trying to upsell unnecessary addons

      The "unnecessary addons" was the business plan and then that stupid techie just gave it away..!?
      No wonder more clear-sighted individuals, with a keener sense of the corporate good, had to step in.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 6:04pm

    honda tends to generate highly localized regions of relatively low atmospheric density.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 7:16pm

    WTH?

    What the hell is wrong with law schools these days? We see butt-loads of lawyers who flat don't know the law, or often have some bizarre interpretation to defies any sensibility. How do these MORONS even pass the Bar exam?!?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:28pm

      Re: WTH?

      I'm thinking the whole system is corrupt. The more slimy you are, the higher score you get.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:36pm

      Re: WTH?

      Passing the Bar exams is easy enough and has no relevance as far as the morals or otherwise of those taking the exam.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 9:21pm

      Re: WTH?

      Steps to Unethical Lawyering:

      1) Go to law school.
      2) Pass the bar exam.
      3) Discover the supply of lawyers largely exceeds demand, making competition quite fierce.
      4) Lower ethical standards to avoid losing gainful employment to people who are willing to send out vague, meritless legal threats as per their corporate master's wishes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 11 Feb 2016 @ 3:00am

    It’s pretty egregious for a corporation to try to bully a news organization into deep-sixing comments from its own readers.
    I laughed at this, literally. Not to say Gawker takes part in what I'm about to do, but my Magic Internet Pencil™ has to be used:

    It’s pretty egregious for a news corporation to try to bully a news organization into deep-sixing comments from its own readers.
    All I did was add one word, and damn, how perfect it fits other articles by Techdirt where news sites are trashing their own comments.

    The Power of the Pencil!®

    PS: none of this is ©

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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