from the really-now? dept
I will admit that Australia's defamation law is fairly baffling, in that it seems to repeatedly allow individuals who have had mean stuff said about them to demand all sorts of content be completely blocked from existence -- based solely on the claims of the aggrieved, and prior to any court ruling. It's a "right to be forgotten" gone mad. The latest such example of this... involves us. We recently discovered that an Australian guy by the name of Michael Roberts is demanding that an entire Techdirt page be removed from Google's index. Having not recalled ever writing about anyone named Michael Roberts, I went to look at the article and discovered... it doesn't mention anyone named Michael Roberts and doesn't seem to involve him at all.
Instead, it's an article from about a year and a half ago about a preemptive lawsuit filed by Ripoff Report against a prosecutor in Iowa who has been aggressively pursuing Ripoff Report for quite some time. As we noted in the article, the judge in the case found no one to like and spends plenty of time pointing out the problems of everyone who is a party to the lawsuit. As the judge noted, the prosecutor pursing Ripoff Report, Ben Smith, appeared to focus on investigating Ripoff Report for "retaliatory reasons." Meanwhile, Ripoff Report was clearly no angel as well, potentially trying to stretch Section 230 of the CDA to cover content written by someone hired by the company (CDA 230 is clearly limited to user generated content, and not to works directed by the company).
That story was kind of interesting, but it apparently just revealed the tip of the ice berg of the dispute between Smith and Ripoff Report. It apparently goes much deeper involving all sorts of conspiracy theories, which we won't even begin to discuss here, other than to note that it appears that many of the people involved in the ongoing dispute all happened to show up in our comments and... go wild posting anything and everything. Some of the back and forth conspiracy theories do involve the guy who sent this notice, Michael Roberts. And, because of that, he wants our entire post (and a whole bunch of other things) entirely blocked from Google. I'm not going to go into the different claims and conspiracy theories in the comments because, frankly, it would take basically a week -- and probably some bulletin boards with photos, printouts and red strings connecting totally unrelated incidents.
But I do find it worrisome that even if Roberts is correct that various negative "imputations" can be made from some of the nuttier comments in the thread, that it means our original story -- which, again, doesn't even mention him -- should be blocked from Google. Honestly, if you read through the comments, and can even keep the various players and claims straight (good luck with that!), it's hard to believe that Roberts is the one who comes out of the whole thing looking bad. But, of course, in filing this takedown notice, he's only causing more people who wouldn't be paying attention at all to go look at the comments and see what this is all about.
Also, it does seem worth noting that beyond our specific articles, and some specific YouTube videos, the takedown request demands entire blogs and social media accounts be blocked, rather than specific statements/posts/articles that could be defamatory. That seems like a clear demand for prior restraint and broad based blocking of individuals, rather than of actually defamatory speech.
There's a popular saying that the best response to speech you dislike is more speech, and this seems like one of those cases. Rather than freaking out and demanding an entire article (not about him) be taken down, why not leave things in context where people can judge the unreliability of the claims on their own merit (or lack thereof).