Saturday, June 25, 2011

ABC 20-20: "We Find Them": Major presentation of recent problems with online reputation, as well as pseudo-phishing of "lonely hearts"; Section 230 examined

ABC 20/20 on Friday June 24 covered Internet abuse, mainly in two areas: online dating fraud, and reputation damage.   The episode was titled “We Find Them”.

Chris Cuomo started with a story of a misadventure from “”.   Women with “lonely hearts” would be approached online by men who would spin tales and then try to trick them out of money with phishing-like scams.   There was mention of a helpful site called “Your Sphere” (social networking site for young people, here).

But the most important part of the show was the second part, about online reputation.

There was a teacher “Sarah” accused of activity with members of a pro football team, with pictures and stories on “”, and these got progressively worse.  Michael Fertik from “Reputation Defender” (link) appears.  The Nik Ritchie, founder of Dirty, appears, as a “Blog Star” of the Internet.  He “compares” himself to the founder of Facebook (not very convincing).  He rationalizes what he does as being like Larry Flynt’s history. It’s hard to explain his “logic”; he would make a good interview for Dr. Phil.

Fertik made a subtle point about the law. On my main blog (“BillBoushka”) I’ve discussed Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act in detail. There are controversies. But under the law, even if someone wins a libel judgment against someone who posts  false defamatory material about someone, or material that invades privacy (probably by the “false light” doctrine), it’s not possible to force the service provider for the website to take it down. All the “victim” can do is bury it with a lot of other posts. But if you can get copyright ownership of the image, then under the DMCA Safe Harbor provision, the service provider would have to take it down. It’s not clear to me that you could claim ownership of your image, except under “right of publicity” which is hard to claim and which is rather unrelated to copyright. I wonder if this argues for the idea of a law saying one owns one’s “real life” face and body image, but that would be very hard to propose without a lot of obvious problems. (Would tattoos  or any “body art” be protected by copyright? Interesting question.)  Generally, if you take an original photo, you own it

The last part of the broadcast reported the taking of offensive photos of accident victims, even by first responders, and posting them on the Internet.  The site "" is mentioned but when I bring it up, it appears to be the same as Fertik's "Reputation Defender"; I don't recall that in the past.   Also, "Reputation Management" is separate and appears to belong to Dow Jones and deals with corporate public relations.

I'll look further into Fertik's theory on the interplay of DMCA and Section 230 -- they are separate legal instruments.

Picture: That's me at age 4, 1947

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