Tag: internet

Combating Cyberbullying – updated

Spunout.ie logo, via their siteFurther to my post on fighting anonymity with anonymity: open justice and cyberbullying and the tragedies of Amanda Todd, Ciara Pugsley, and Erin Gallagher, RTÉ news reports that a national youth organisation, SpunOut.ie, has issued guidelines on how to combat cyber and text-bullying:

If you are experiencing this form of bullying, it’s vital you don’t suffer in silence. Also, if you have witnessed cyberbullying, it’s important that you take action and address the problem.

Read the Office for Internet Safety’s Guide to cyberbullying, which includes information on when and how to contact service providers if you are being cyberbullied.

Two key pieces of advice from the SpunOut.ie page:

  • Don’t reply to the messages, but don’t delete them either: save them as proof.
  • Don’t stay quiet about the bullying: tell someone you can trust and who can help you and give you support.


YouTube, Facebook, and the responsibilities of intermediary gatekeepers

YouTube logo, via YouTubeIn my previous post, I argued that, as a matter of principle, the controversial American anti-Islamic video should not be censored. The most obvious form of censorship comes from government action, such as legislation banning speech, but that does not arise in this case. Less obvious, but no less insidious, was the White House request to Google to re-consider whether the video breached YouTube rules. This was not a formal ban, and Google declined to take the video down in the US, but it did block access to it in in Egypt and Libya. This raises two important questions about the structure of free speech. First, in the online world, where most of us access the internet through a range of intermediaries, government censorship does not necessarily need to target the disfavoured speech; it need only target the intermediaries. Very few US companies would feel able to decline a request like that from the White House, and Google are to be commended for standing firm in those circumstances. Second, these intermediaries now have a great deal of practical power over online expression – not only can they be co-opted by government as agents of state censorship, but they also have the capacity to act as censors in their own rights, as Google did in their unilateral action to block access in the Middle East.

Such intermediaries are effectively gatekeepers are those who enable – and control – our access to that information, and this raises profound issues of principle about the role of intermediary gatekeepers in the structure of free speech about which I have written on this blog (here | here | here). At present, such intermediary gatekeepers are all private entities, operating to their own rules, and it is not at all clear how they can be made accountable to their users or the wider public for their private actions. Given the practical, social and legal issues that arise in policing content in such a quasi-public sphere (pdf), it has been argued that search engines and other intermediaries should have public interest obligations, perhaps by analogy with common law duties that govern public utilities (pdf). In particular, free speech norms should not only be about protecting speakers against a heavy-handed state but also about protecting speakers and readers against heavy-handed intermediate gatekeepers. (more…)

Another Top 10 Online Free Speech Resources

Censorship jpg via ReadWriteWebAs regular readers of this blog will know, the right to freedom of expression – broadly interpreted – is one of my main areas of research and teaching. Many of my favourite internet resources relating to free speech can be seen in my blogroll and the list of badges in the sidebars on the right. Via Kate Sutherland on Twitter, I see that Kurt Hopkins has a great post on ReadWriteWeb about his Top 10 Online Free Speech Resources. In particular, he listed institutional resources which are accessible to anyone, provide original news or analysis, and are frequently updated. It’s a great idea; indeed, it’s such a good idea,

I’m going to copy it, and – without overlapping Kurt’s choices – list another top 10 online free speech resources below the jump (in broadly alphabetical order): (more…)

Technology, students and universities

Cover of 'The Tyrrany of Email' via AmazonThere are some – related – articles in today’s Irish Independent on themes which have featured on this blog. A report published yesterday by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows that the number of students going to college has hit a record high (the Irish Times ran the same story under the headline that there are more students than farmers in Ireland) and that courses in science and computing are now back in favour.

However, technology is not necessarily an uncritically good thing, as is shown by the headline to another story: I’m so addicted to email, Facebook and Twitter, I have to hide it from my wife …. In that piece, reviewing The tyranny of email by John Freeman, James Delingpole owns up to his own addiction to communications technology. Of course, he is not the only person whose life is being ruined by email. Moreover, a similar addiction drives the use of mobile phones and laptops in class as increasingly popular displacement activities.

Finally, and a little more seriously, the print edition – but not, so far as I can see, the online edition (though it may in time be published in the archives of the Education section or, perhaps, of the Technology sections) – has a really interesting piece on distance learning at third level, discussing the Open University and Hibernia College. Online education poses both challenges and opportunities for bricks and mortar universities, and they will have to be faced and embraced if universities are to survive and thrive.

The moral of the stories is, of course, that if the undergraduates who now outnumber farmers can’t tear themselves away from their email and social networking sites, they might decide to eschew traditional universities and study online instead!

Libel tourism, online defamation and multiple publication

In the UK, the Ministry for Justice has just begun a consultation process seeking views on the “multiple publication rule” at common law under which each publication of defamatory material can form the basis of a new defamation claim, and in particular on the effects of this rule in relation to online archives. If this rule is reformed, then a major plank of the libel tourism phenomenon, by which London has become the libel capital of the Western world and home to libel actions that have little to do with its jurisdiction, will quite properly have been removed (see BBC | ComputerWorld | Greenslade | Guardian | Index on Censorship Free Speech blog | Information Overlord | OUT.law | Slaw | TechWatch | Times Online).

The multiple publication rule was established in Duke of Brunswick v Harmer (1849) 14 QB 185 (already discussed on this blog), reaffirmed in Loutchansky v Times Newspapers [2002] QB 783, [2001] EWCA Civ 1805 (05 December 2001), and upheld by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Times Newspapers Ltd (Nos 1 and 2) v the United Kingdom Applications 3002/03 and 23676/03, [2009] ECHR 451 (10 March 2009). However, it seems to have been excised from Irish law by section 11 of the new Defamation Act, 2009, which provides

Multiple publication
11.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), a person has one cause of action only in respect of a multiple publication.

(2) A court may grant leave to a person to bring more than one defamation action in respect of a multiple publication where it considers that the interests of justice so require.

(3) In this section “multiple publication” means publication by a person of the same defamatory statement to 2 or more persons (other than the person in respect of whom the statement is made) whether contemporaneously or not.

This is not an easy section to parse; but it seems to me that two subsequent clicks on the same internet archive article constitute “the same defamatory statement” to two persons, but not contemporaneously; and if this is right, then section 11 reverses the common law position. The UK consultation, in effect, then, is whether UK law should come into line with Irish law. The Ministry places this consultation in the context of a wider reform of defamation law currently underway, which includes the decriminalisation of seditious libel currently before Parliament, and a consultation earlier this year on controlling costs in defamation proceedings (update: more here). Moreover, it is plainly a response to the ECHR decision in the Times Newspapers, which, whilst upholding the multiple publication rule, nevertheless emphasised that

48. … while an aggrieved applicant must be afforded a real opportunity to vindicate his right to reputation, libel proceedings brought against a newspaper after a significant lapse of time may well, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, give rise to a disproportionate interference with press freedom under Article 10.

In other words, although the multiple publication rule still survives in the UK, it is not necessarily entirely compatible with free speech norms. From the webpage on the multiple publication consultation:

Defamation on the internet: Ministry of Justice seeks your views

A debate on aspects of defamation law, and how it works in the internet age, was launched today by the Ministry of Justice. Part of the law on defamation originates from the 1840s, long before the internet arrived and changed the way that opinions and comment are often communicated. Today’s consultation seeks views on specific issues that could interest anybody who posts or publishes on the internet, particularly those who maintain online archives. …

Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, said:

… Freedom to hold and express opinions is a right that is vital to democracy, as is respect for the rights and freedoms of others. How these principles are balanced in the fast-changing internet age is a fascinating debate.

To encourage responses, there is a short list of 8 questions, to which my off-the-top-of-my-head answers are as follows:

1. The multiple publication rule in the UK should be abolished and replaced by a single publication rule, just as the new Irish Act has done. (more…)

Who will keep the keepers? II

Juvenal, via wikimedia
It never rains but it pours. Having recently blogged about about Emily Laidlaw’s article on search engine accountability, I’ve just come across the similarly important article by Oren Bracha and Frank Pasquale on Federal Search Commission? Access, Fairness, and Accountability in the Law of Search 93 Cornell Law Review 1149 (2008) (pdf). They robustly argue that general-purpose search engines are better characterized not as media outlets (contrast Finklestein) but as common carriers (quite a common argument in the online context), that they should therefore come under common law duties that govern public utilities (appropriately adapted), and that – by analogy with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – a new regulatory framework (the Federal Search Commission (FSC) of the title) should be established. They conclude:

Search engines, in whatever form they might assume, will continue to be a major part of our informational environment in the foreseeable future. The normative concerns associated with their unique position of power are here to stay. A properly designed regulatory approach may do much to ameliorate these concerns. Courts should not end the debate over the contours of such an approach before it begins.

Hear, hear! However, if online search requires an FSC in the US, then it will require equivalents in other jurisdictions as well. Moreover, given the global reach of the internet, there may be need for some kind of international congruence of such regulation to make it workable. In this respect, the better analogy may not be with the FCC, but – as Daithí is always eager to point out – with two earlier international organisations, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) established in 1865 and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) established in 1874, both of which are now specialised agencies of the United Nations (UN). (more…)

Who will keep the keepers?

Cover of the IJLITomment on this blog that the Roman poet Juvenal asked Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who will watch the watchers?). Emily B Laidlaw, in her fascinating article, Private Power, Public Interest: An Examination of Search Engine Accountability, raises the parallel question of who will keep the keepers? In the vast new information age bequeathed to us by the internet and the world wide web, gatekeepers are those who enable – and control – our access to that information. At present, they are all private entities, and even if they wish to do no evil, there is no reason why they should actually do some good, let alone act in the public interest. Laidlaw’s analysis therefore focuses on the important issue, who will keep the (gate)keepers; here’s the abstract:

As information becomes a critical commodity in modern society, the issue is raised whether the entities that manage access to information, that are tools for public discourse and democracy, should be accountable to the public. The Internet has transformed how we communicate, and search engines have emerged as managers of information, organizing and categorizing content in a coherent, accessible manner thereby shaping the Internet user’s experience. This article examines whether search engines should have public interest obligations. In order to answer this question, this article first examines comparative public interest regulatory structures, and the growing importance of the Internet to public discourse. Then examined is how the algorithmic designs and manual manipulation of rankings by search engines affects the public interest without a sufficient accountability structure. Finally, the values necessary to a public interest framework are suggested.