What happens if there’s a Wikipedia article about you that’s unflattering? What if it is in error or revealing of your private life? Wikipedia, for those not familiar with it, is an online encyclopedia that is written and edited collectively by anybody who wants to participate.
Daniel Brandt, a blogger who maintains blogs called Google Watch and Wikipedia Watch complained to Wikipedia administrators asking them to delete an entry about him. What should one’s rights in this regard be?
Here’s what Brandt writes:
There is a problem with the structure of Wikipedia. The basic problem is that no one, neither the Trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, nor the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible for the content. . . .
At the same time that no one claims responsibility, there are two unique characteristics of Wikipedia that can be very damaging to a person, corporation, or group. The first is that anyone can edit an article, and there is no guarantee that any article you read has not been edited maliciously, and remains uncorrected in that state, at the precise time that you access that article.
The second unique characteristic is that Wikipedia articles, and in some cases even the free-for-all “talk” discussions behind the articles, rank very highly in the major search engines. This means that Wikipedia’s potential for inflicting damage is amplified by several orders of magnitude.
Brandt muses whether he ought to sue Wikipedia:
As someone who has been jostling with Wikipedia administrators for several weeks, I am very interested in whom I should sue if I wanted to sue. This assumes, of course, that I’ve decided I’ve been clearly libeled by Wikipedia’s article on me, and/or the discussion page attached to it. At the moment, this is an intellectual interest of mine, and I am not currently claiming that I have been libeled.
1. Should Wikipedia take down the entry as a matter of policy? If so, should they take down anything that a person finds offensive or disagreeable? Or should they be more restrictive as to what they deem deletable?
2. The Communications Decency Act (CDA) § 230 provides immunity for an ISP or website operator for liability for comments posted by others: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1). Under § 230, ISPs cannot be liable as “publishers” of information posted by a user. The operators of a blog cannot be liable for comments posted by others. Wikipedia is akin to the operator of a blog that accepts comments by users; the folks at Wikipedia are allowing others to put up information, and under § 230 they cannot be held liable.
3. There remains a disputable issue as to whether § 230 applies once a website operator knows that a comment posted is defamatory or invasive of privacy. Some cases have held that § 230 still applies, but other courts have concluded that once a website or ISP has knowledge of about an improper comment and still leaves it up, this could give rise to liability. What should the rule be in this regard?
1. Solove, Yahoo! Nude Photos Case (PrawfsBlawg)
Hat tip: Google Blogoscoped