Examining The Seigenthaler-Wikipedia Issues
December 9th, 2005

In a previous smartmobs post on Dec 05 2005, Mike Love reported that:

Following an op-ed by John Seigenthaler Sr. complaining about false accusations and other nasty things in his Wikipedia biography, Wikipedia has changed their rules to require users to register before they can create an article. Registration is simple (takes 15-20 seconds, doesn’t require an email address) and anonymous users will still be able to edit articles and create talk pages.

Jim Wales’ message to the Wikipedia EN list is here

Meanwhile, Ross Mayfield and Mitch Ratcliffe blog-debate about the nature of Wikis and Wikipedia as a collaborative knowledge tool, and social phenomenon.

Daniel Brandtcomments in Many2many post by Clay Shirky:

I have a sense of what Mr. Seigenthaler wants to do, because he told me on the telephone two days ago. He wants hearings on Section 230.

Mr. Seigenthaler wants to shift the burden for identifying the perpetrator of libels and falsehoods. At the same time, he doesn’t want the government to restrict the press or anyone’s First Amendment rights in any way at all.

The way he described it, you could shift the burden by changing the law so that Internet Service Providers would evaluate the plaintiff’s evidence, and decide themselves whether revealing the customer’s identity might be appropriate. If the decision is yes, at that point the ISP notifies the customer, who is given the opportunity to initiate legal proceedings to enjoin the ISP from revealing his identity.

This raises some improtant questions about the nature of the law and technologies of cooperation (PDF).

Who is really legally responsible for “libel” in a public wiki? The author of the post in question? The author’s ISP? The “administrator(s)” of the wiki? The webhosting company of the wiki?

If you can sue (someone) for writing inaccurate info about you on a public wiki, it seems to me that the only people who you can hold legally responsible are the individual authors who write the actual words in question.


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