Monday, May 05, 2008

The Streisand Effect Strikes Again

I find it quite amazing the number of people who fall for this lawyer-dream-cum-true behaviour where some offended party chooses to sue an internet site for libel or defamation or just to get them to pull particular content. Many people have done this, but every time they do, all they get is a bloody nose and a whole lot of publicity they never wanted in the first place... example: Barbara Bauer is a literary agent and somebody doesn't like her. So instead of just telling their friends and neighbours not to use her services (perhaps they don't have any friends or neighbours who're in the market for literary agencies?), they created a page on Wikipedia to describe her. Now, that page kept on being restored and deleted, and it actually appears to have survived for 10 months from May 2007 to March 2008 (wiki deletion log).

So Ms Bauer decides she doesn't like this, so she's suing Wikipedia. No, not the author of the defamatory article; Wikipedia. It's about time somebody at whatever passes for a Bar Council or a Law Society in the States needs to hit the entire legal profession upside the head with a big clue stick. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) means you cannot sue the service provider (in this case Wikipedia) for what their members chose to post. I'm sure there's something in the US Constitution on the subject too!

So Ms. Bauer, welcome to the Streisand Effect. You make an ill-aimed fuss about something you want kept quiet, and what happens? Everyone hears about whatever it is you want kept quiet. Me? I'd never heard of you. Now? I'm left with the impression (rightly or wrongly) that you're a poor literary agent with a penchant for scatter-gun litigation. Sure sounds professional to me!

What's worse is that you'll now go down in history (via Google's indexes, Yahoo! indexes, MSN Live Search indexes (maybe), Altavista, not to mention the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive) in that way, but not at Wikipedia because not only have they deleted the article, no-one can create an article with that name any more.

Note: the Wayback Machine will have articles about the Wikipedia case, it doesn't actually have the Wikipedia article itself ... at least I couldn't find it. I'm not sure which is worse in terms of publicity: an article few people are likely to read, or many many articles of opinion scattered across the 'net, based upon journalist's reporting of the case. So we may all be quite wrong.

Scratch that. I do know: Ms Bauer, the correct way to handle this would have been by a simple appeal to the administrators of Wikipedia. Only an idiot involves lawyers where a simple email would more than likely have sufficed.

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