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charles johnson v. indymedia

I've had my share of run-ins with the folks at Indymedia. While they told lies about me and even printed my phone number and address, those things don't come close to what an Indymedia poster did to Charles.

I won't quote any of it here, you'll have to go read it yourself. Steven DenBest thinks Charles has a good case for libel. However, you may recall the big noise the blogosphere back in June when it was announced that forum operators and bloggers could not be held for libel:

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blockquote>The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that Web loggers, website operators and e-mail list editors can't be held responsible for libel for information they republish, extending crucial First Amendment protections to do-it-yourself online publishers

Actually, that was not a totally true statement. It turns out that email list editors and forum operators were off the hook; individual bloggers were not.

Indymedia is a forum, not a blog. If Charles wanted, he could sue the person who posted the statement, if he could find out who the person really is. He could probably try to sue the Indymedia moderators, for not taking the post down when it was obviously inflammatory and against the rules of Indymedia posting.

But - suprise here - I am not one of those who is going to cry for Indymedia to be shut down because of this. For all our talk about free speech, some of us seem awfully eager to shut people up.

I'm just afraid this is going to blow up into something else entirely; maybe a reason for many bloggers and blog readers to get together and try to kill Indymedia once and for all.

That would be a shame. As much as I despise that site, I do recognize that they have a right to exist. Take on the individual who made the comments, by all means. But don't try to get the whole place shut down. It would be censorship, a form of stifling those who oppose you. It would be a blow against free speech to shut down a whole site for one post on one sub-site among many.

Yes, Indymedia posts some horrible things. They are violently anti-Semitic. They hate everyone except themselves and Karl Marx. It is an ugly, hateful world inside the bowels of that sewer.

Yet I am violently pro-Israel. I hate the people at DU and IMC. I write about it often. I call them names. wish ugly things upon them. I am, at times, no better than them. I just happen to think my ideas are right, just as they believe that their ideas are right.

I think there are an awful lot of bloggers and readers who are looking at this not as a wrong against Charles, but as a chance to shut Indymedia up once and for all. If I could say one thing to them it would be: go after the individual, not the entire IMC community and all of its websites.

As much as I deplore the views and ideologies of Indymedia, I still realize if people start chasing them in the dark with torches held high, we all look bad. Free speech works both ways and we need to remind ourselves of that often.


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Comments

Free speech ends when you trample someone else's rights i.e. putting them in danger or slandering/libeling them with untrue statements.

When you cross that line, yes you should either shut up or be shut up. Free speech doesn't give you the right to harm others, just to speak out about how you don't like someone or something.

I understand that Neo. That's why I'm saying Charles should definitely sue the person who posted the comment and possibly the moderators who let it stand. I just don't think the other hundred or so Indymedia sites should come down with those people.

I may be mistaken, but the 9th circuit only covers one part of the U.S., and until the case is decided by the Supreme Court, there's nothing that says another circuit couldn't rule otherwise. And something like this is bound to make its way to the SC as more blogs start to act like "real journalism."

While I agree with your free speech sentiments, they may have a broader problem because of the "Boydiddler exposed California (Reuters)" nature of the post. I read several commenters at IM and Meta who stated they'd at first thought it was an actual Reuters article because of that.

If Reuters takes it as libelous to their news service, it may not matter what stance the blogosphere takes on it.

It looked like the decision that bloggers can't be sued for libel also pertains to republished information... when this is very specific internal blogosphere stuff. Plus it's more threatening (I don't know much about this in specific, but if they give out phone numbers etc... that's pretty extreme) than a lot of libel cases (like saying "Tom Cruise is gay" or something)

I agree with Neo, who I believe may actually be Keanu Reeves. (Watch out for Joey Pants, Neo!) While I like your sentiment and think that ideally it is better to have a debate than to shut down an opponent, it is an illusion that free speech exists (or should exist) as an absolute. We all know that some restrictions to free speech are agreed upon as being acceptable (yelling "movie!" in a crowded firehouse). Your "I may not agree with you but I'll defend to the death your right to disagree with me" stance is laudable, but doesn't (I think) acknowledge that there are limits. I guess I'm confused by the whole thing...was the phony Reuters article posted by a schmoe like me, or by a writer/administrator of the site? I guess the answer to that question could make me switch and completely agree with you. Either way, I still don't get it. I mean, it wasn't even funny. Really. There was no hint at a phony joke name, or obvious exaggeration to give the reader the idea he was reading satire. I may be offended by some cruel satire but I can at least see that, "yeah, it's gross but you nailed it...that was funny...jerk." But this was just not funny.

Tom Cruise is gay?! Did I miss the blog? Brian, I believe you are mistaken. That thing called precedence is pretty substantial when it comes to Law. There's no "I'll just wait til Dad gets home" kind of rule enforcement once it's been established. An exceptional and very different case may set a new precedence, or Congress may specifically address this problem with new legislature, but in my humble opinion a libel case will NEVER reach the Supreme Court.
Neo, I believe you too are mistaken. Free speech DOES give you the right to harm others. In many cases, that harm could be emotional, legal, professional, or even financial. Obviously, this case is untruthful and malicious and a pretty shitty post to boot. But to be honest, it did make me laugh.

My old granddad used to say: "Shooting's too good for some."

Myself, I think that it would be a perfect solution, in this case.

The one thing to consider also, Michele, is that IndyMedia is not a free-range forum. They have, in the past, exercised great editorial control over posts which they disagree with. This in and of itself can be enough to yank them from the protective confines of an "open forum" and into the cold, dark world of libel.

You can't have it both ways -- you can EITHER have an open forum, OR you can have a moderated forum, but when you start making editorial decisions about them you start to run into issues -- mainly because when you delete one post but allow a more inappropriate one to exist, you are essentially condoning and supporting the statement.

That said, I don't think shutting down indymedia is going to do anything to anyone -- something will fill the vacuum. If a court were to rule that IndyMedia is at fault because they controlled the content, I don't think that'd be a bad thing at all. It'd just mean that the next site to come along would have to run a tight ship or allow everyone to have their say -- something NOT occurring at IndyMedia at present.

Standard disclaimers apply, IANAL.

While they told lies about me and even printed my phone number and address, those things don't come close to what an Indymedia poster did to Charles.

And that's why I have no pity in my heart for 'em, and don't think the forum has any right to continue existing: because they've been trending toward something like this happening for a long, long time. Indymedia's collective delight in yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater deserves no protection. Either they moderate their individual posters, or others will.

I have no particular desire to see Indymedia get destroyed over this -- not literally, that is. I think there should be websites for all the loonies to stick together, so we know what they're up to.

And, more to the point, letting a post like that stay up is a huge blow to their credibility -- and asking for trouble since the person put (Reuters) in it. Perhaps they think another anti-Israel, anti-America institution will not take legal action against them, but they'd be sorely mistaken. Reuters is a business, first of all, and I bet they don't take the besmirching of their name lightly.

Of course, reasonable people never found Indymedia as a credible source of info, but I think this post cements its image.

Wouldn't it be fun if Reuters sued...

Reuters? What does that have to do with Charles and his wife being attacked? Trolls, anyone?

The article is definitely libel. Keeping the post up after being informed of its libelous nature makes IM liable whether it was done by a staffer or not. Hope Charles sues their asses off, this kind of trash is not protected by the 1st Amendment - that's why you can sue for libel.

I don't think this has anything to do with Free Speech. The post, in context, was libellous. It didn't merely call Charles Johnson nasty names, it presented a completely fabricated, untrue story about him as a "news report", in fact it said it was a wire report from Reuters. The comments both there and in a later thread at metafilter showed that many took the story to be true. It was clearly not presented as being satire and parody.
I'm not a lawyer and I have no idea if Charles Johnson or Reuters are in an actionable position. I hope that both of them puruse every legal means at their disposal against both the poster and the moderator of that board for not taking the post down.
I agree with you that it would be wrong to try to use this as a pretext to get rid of Indymedia in some heavy-handed, top-down sort of way. However, I do hope, and I don't think it's anti-free-speech to hope, that this will have a profoundly negative impact on their reputation and cause them lasting harm in a general way beyond the particular case. If they are found guilty of libel perhaps it will wake some people up to the fact that they've gone over the line and fewer people will see it as just a left-wing website as opposed to the cesspool it is. Maybe they'll even lose some of their corporate sponsorship. These would all be good outcomes that have nothing to do with censorship.

The announcement that bloggers could not be sued for libel did not cover situations like this. The Ninth Circuit decision only protects bloggers if they publish libelous material garnered from another source.

So, if I started announcing on my blog that "Charles Johnson is a pedophile, and look, I read it here" then quote the IM story, I cannot be held accountable.

IndyMedia can.

The story has been up for 48 hours. It's getting harder for me to think that IndyMedia is a victim of its open posting policy when it's been up that long, with this much publicity.

Brian, I believe you are mistaken. That thing called precedence is pretty substantial when it comes to Law. There's no "I'll just wait til Dad gets home" kind of rule enforcement once it's been established. An exceptional and very different case may set a new precedence, or Congress may specifically address this problem with new legislature, but in my humble opinion a libel case will NEVER reach the Supreme Court.

Rob, I'm no lawyer, but I have been reading scotus cases for a legal research class the past two months, and one thing I can say for certain is that precedence doesn't mean jack if the supreme court doesn't want it to. Several cases involve justices saying things that appear to be the exact opposite of each other within the space of a year!

The court has only addressed the Internet in a limited number of cases over the past 10 years, and I believe libel is going to come up at some point relating specifically to the Internet, but it will require two parties who are willing to go that distance, and most libel cases don't have that kind of parties to the suit.