Sunday, February 25, 2007

Larry Sanger Gets It Totally Wrong

While exploring the blogosphere for commentary about Wikipedia, my attention was drawn to a post by Larry Sanger on the Citizendium Blog:
". . . Wikipedia's reach is now enormous, and if indeed it has gained a reputation, whether deserved or not, as a source of reasonably reliable information, and it defames someone for any significant length of time, such defamation can do very real harm to a person’s reputation. . . .

"[ . . .]

". . . Ethically, and probably legally, Wikipedia’s managers must face up to it, because the injustice the current situation perpetrates is completely and
obviously intolerable.
While Wikipedia may or may not have an ethical duty to prevent people from being defamed *on* Wikipedia, an issue on which reasonable minds may differ, the only thing that I find "obvious" on the issue of defamation *by* Wikipedia is that Larry Sanger knows absolutely nothing about defamation law.

BTW, as I am wont to say when commenting on legal issues, I do not practice law, and nothing I have written in this post or elsewhere should be construed as a legal opinion or as legal advice. That having been said, according to Attorney Scott D. Sheftall, the lawyer who is representing Fuzzy Zoeller in the recent defamation suit involving Wikipedia, the law is pretty clear when it comes to the fact that Wikipedia has no legal exposure here:
"Zoeller's attorney, Scott D. Sheftall, said he filed the lawsuit against a Miami firm last week because the law won't allow him to sue St. Petersburg-based Wikipedia."
The irony here is that Sanger's ongoing indictment of Wikipedia is that it allegedly fails to provide accurate information. In Sanger's own words:
"Articles that contain defamatory remarks are not 'objectionable comments' on a 'message board'; they are presented to the world and typically accepted as fact, which is something Jimmy himself encourages by saying, as he does, that Wikipedia is actually pretty reliable."
This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, and a pretty good case could be made that Sanger's comments about Jimbo Wales are defamatory:
"It is reprehensible, moreover, to react to this situation lackadaisically, regarding false claims that are personally and professionally damaging as in effect 'collateral damage' that society must bear as the price of having such a wonderful project as Wikipedia. That reaction is reprehensible because it assumes that Wikipedia's managers cannot improve the way that it deals with this sort of problem. They could, without completely breaking its system; but they choose not to."
According to the guidelines offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in re defamation, an attorney could probably make a prima facie case that Sanger is publishing untrue statements about Wales with the intention of impuning Wales' reputation. However, given that Wales would probably qualify as a public figure, said attorney would also have to prove "actual malice" on the part of Sanger. Nonetheless, I think it's incumbent upon Sanger to live up to the standards that he hopes to enforce:
"[Citizendium] will have a zero tolerance policy toward any even possibly defamatory remarks: to say something that might tend to impugn someone’s reputation, even if true, will require extremely good documentation. If no such documentation is offered, or if it does not check out, the person who makes such claims will be "escorted to the door." We simply won't tolerate it."


Blogger Mike said...

Clever write-up, but it doesn't seem very substantive.


Sunday, February 25, 2007 11:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Otto Kerner said...

A responsive response, but it seems quite brief.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 8:57:00 PM  

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