I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Best "reputation defender" is a "fairness doctrine" for blogs

Articles have reported that Florida K-12 education chancellor Cheri Yecke hired an outfit called "reputationdefender" to try to help persuade Ding Elsberry to remove or modify a statement about her on one of his blogs. One of these articles says,

About reputationdefender

-The company works by contacting the offending Web sites to request that they remove the material.

-Cost: For $10 to $16 per month, you'll get a monthly report that lists what's out there about you.

-It costs $29.95 for each item you want the company to eliminate. For information, go to www.reputationdefender.com

What can $29.95 buy today? In pre-inflationary days, Earl Scheib would paint your car for just $29.95 ("Riiight, I'll paint any car, any color for twenty-nine ninety-five! Riiiiiiight!"), but those days are long gone -- now prices at Earl Scheib shops start at $259.95.

A Wall Street Journal article says,
ReputationDefender begins by sending emails on behalf of its clients to Web-site owners. The letters typically introduce the company, identify the client and the offending content, and ask the recipient to remove it. The letters don't make threats -- Mr. Fertik, despite his training, and others at ReputationDefender aren't lawyers -- but instead try to appeal to recipients' sense of fairness: "Like our clients, and perhaps like you, we think the Internet is sometimes unnecessarily hurtful to the privacy and reputations of everyday people," one such letter reads.

"The first thing we do is we just ask, very politely," said Mr. Fertik. "Thereafter, we can get less polite," including contacting a site's Internet service provider to complain about the site. When Web site owners don't respond to its letters, ReputationDefender sometimes suggests that clients hire a lawyer, though Mr. Fertik said that happens infrequently.

The WSJ article gave an example of where jawboning a blogger failed to result in removal of the material.

However, the reputationdefender.com website claims that they have the ability to "destroy" targeted material, but I don't see how they could do that without illegal hacking. There is something else I want to say about this WSJ article but I will save it for a later post.

Fertik said, "Thereafter, we can get less polite," but it would be hard to get less polite than the "reputation defender" in the following story. A report about a particularly enterprising reputation defender said,

Arizona resident Ed Magedson is the manager of Xcentric Ventures, which operates RipOffReport.com, a clearinghouse where disgruntled customers can post freely about how much they hate a company, its products, or the people who work for it.

As you might imagine, RipOffReport has become something of a magnet not only for frustrated consumers, but also the reputation-defending services that can charge up to a few hundred dollars a year to try to clean up someone's name (or business name) online.

Magedson said, and a judge eventually agreed, that William Stanley (behind DefamationAction.com and ComplaintRemover.com) sent him a series of threats demanding that uncomplimentary information be deleted from RipOffReport.

Below are excerpts from one of those threats that Stanley sent to Magedson:

This letter is being sent to you in the name of more than 500 businesses. No matter where you go, we will cause you a problem. Your life is in danger until you comply with our demands. This is your last warning.

Your neighbors already know about your criminal dealings and how you are making many people loose (sic) their business. You will soon be beaten to a pulp and pounced into the ground six feet under with a baseball bat and sleg (sic) hammer. You will soon be sorry not just from what I am capable of doing to you, but what other members will do as soon as they know exactly where you are. Its (sic) just a matter of time until I get to you.

Here is what you can do to save your life. But you must act imidiatly (sic). Make what ever deal it takes, you must comply.

You have the previous list of companies that you need to remove from Rip-off Report. We know you hold the power. We know you have that list.

That kind of cease-and-desist letter is what lawyers call "zealous advocacy."

I assert that the best "reputation defender" for blogging would be a "fairness doctrine" law that would prohibit arbitrary censorship of blog visitors' comments so that defamed people or others would be able to respond directly. Also, I propose that bloggers insisting on the right to arbitrarily censor comments be required to prominently post a notice such as the following:

The blogger on this blog arbitrarily censors comments for any of the following reasons:

(1) The blogger disagrees with the comment.

(2) The blogger wholly or partially agrees with the comment but the comment is contrary to a point that the blogger is trying to make.

(3) The blogger dislikes a commenter or a suspected commenter.

(4) No reason at all.

Also, I propose that all bloggers be required to fill out and prominently post a standard comment policy form.

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