Thursday, June 14, 2007

Feral reporting and unreliable evidence

The irony of Tony Blair bleating about the effects of a media that has been spun out of control has not been lost; but it is indeed far too easy for false information of all sorts to be posted and propagated without any consequences for those who post untrue and unverified information on social networks, discussion groups, and even the Wikipedia.

Such are the economic and time pressures of modern online media that even once-responsible publications have become lazy and increasingly fall for the simple option of repeating defamation found on the Internet: journalists even admit to writing features based on unverified Google results, and attempt to excuse themselves with the view that "well, everyone does it, don't they?"

Listen to this BBC Radio programme and you will quickly understand that this situation is spiralling out of control, as the range of false information extends from harmless fun, through satire, past clumsy invective and on to carefully orchestrated efforts at commercial espionage and detailed malicious character assassination.

"Trial by Google" has become one of the most dangerous aspects of Internet libertarianism, because phrases such as "there's no smoke without fire" still sum up the reaction from the vast majority of researchers who uncover something - anything - that a victim - corporate or private - would apparently not have wished to see posted in public. Google searches are now very widely used by police, tax authorities, employers and a whole range of people and organisations for whom the line of least resistance will always form a crucial part of any character judgement.

Any attempt by those defamed to complain and demand retraction are generally met with a reaction of "Well, you would say that, wouldn't you?"

So a wholly baseless and slanderous accusation can be posted for free with a cloak of anonymity in a web cafe, but any legal redress involves considerable cost in time and money from the outset in order to prove to the various ISPs involved that you are serious.

And even if you are able to pay £10k to a lawyer to start a response, let alone the full cost of a libel action which can run to £50k or more, the process can take a long time and spread across multiple international jurisdictions; so there is frequently absolutely nothing most people who are fraudulently defamed online can do, but grind their teeth. Even those who bring successful libel actions find that they are still the losers as such cases generally go unreported and, more often than not, the defamatory material which was the subject of the libel action remains on search engines. This site aims to set out a sane alternative where those who have been victims of false and vexatious cyberdefamation can state their case and begin to undo some of the harm done.

If you have been unfairly defamed online, doing nothing is not an option.

TMP is contemplating providing a web site to enable those for for whom an 8 point retraction hidden on page 54 does not quite make up for the consequences of 120 point page 3 defamation.

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