I really, really, really hate the sound of this article! Oddly enough, Marilyn mistressmarilyn and I have long predicted that people were going to screw with our online fun, sooner or later -- and compared our current freedoms to the 'wild west' (just as this article does).
Give me the wild west any day over too damned much 'protection' for adult users! I'm not surfing porn sites or looking for kiddie porn pics -- far from it. (I actually hate it when I accidently end up at those kinds of crappy sites.) But do I want to keep reading mature fanfics? Yes, I do!
The Miserable End of the Open Forum
-by John C. Dvorak-
See the Source
Over the years, open forums in the U.S. and elsewhere have been fairly wild and amazingly open. The courts have long since determined that something such as a computer forum or bulletin board has a kind of Hyde Park Corner status where people can say and do what they want, and the host of the forum has no legal responsibility to police these folks. With several recent cases brought against Yahoo!, combined with the looming influence of foreign jurisdictions, I cannot see this sort of freedom lasting much longer.
Yahoo! is the early target in all this, since it is a big entity with deep pockets and a seemingly out-of-control system. Yahoo! has an amazing array of groups, forums, clubs, and stores, and I'm not sure anyone at the company knows how deep these run. Try to map the extent of Yahoo!'s open-posting system and you'll be surprised by the sheer number of universes within. But take one look at any section where you can get a user listing, and you'll find excessive spam, organized phone-sex solicitations, escort services looking for free advertising, and the like. It is a mess that has been allowed to get out of control. This is because Yahoo! personnel, like everyone else, didn't think they had any responsibility to monitor or control any of it.
Personally, I'd think Yahoo! would want to control these systems a little, to maintain long-term integrity of data and usefulness, but there may be a rub in there too. Some early court cases tended to indicate that once you start policing the system to any extent, then you become more responsible for its content than someone who lets everything slide into chaos.
The hands-off policy was the best policy, until now. In the past people had the policy of "I see nothing! I know nothing." Yahoo! now finds itself embroiled in various lawsuits over child porn, and most recently a suit by a woman who claims that the portal will not remove nude pictures of her posted by her ex-husband on his Yahoo! profile.
One case that was filed on May 9 against Yahoo! charged that the company allowed the "Candyman" alleged child-porn trading ring to exist on its servers. I believe this case is the beginning of the end. Child porn is where everyone draws the line. Slander, libel, insider trading, corruption, and prostitution are tolerated. Child porn is not. And once the arguments against the Candyman group are analyzed, it should turn out that the rationale for a judgment against Yahoo! can be used as a rationale for other actions against the company. That should be followed by actions against all the open forums where libelous commentary is rampant. Watch each domino fall. You can also be certain that as this dam begins to break, the scammers will start suing Yahoo! and other Web portals for all sorts of false claims too, making everyone's life miserable.
Let's not forget the potential for international lawsuits. The internationalization of the Internet and the Web mean that American laws do not apply. Do you know that calling someone a monopolist in Canada, for example, is libelous? This is because being a monopolist in Canada is a crime, and you generally slander someone when you call them a criminal (unless they've been convicted, of course). Comparison advertising is illegal in many countries, and Web sites do it all the time. None of this is going to last as we spiral down to the lowest common denominator.
So what can we expect in the years to come? I expect a slow death to nonmoderated wide-open forums and open public commentary, as the courts finally realize that Yahoo! and others are not, in fact, Hyde Park Corner, but commercial publishers with the responsibilities of publishers. If Yahoo! has child porn on its servers, then someone goes to jail. I wouldn't want to be the head of IT there, that's for sure.
The fact is that Yahoo!, MSN, Slashdot, the Ziff Davis forums, and everyone else on the Web are publishers, not virtual telephone poles onto which you can staple any old flyer you want to post. Only e-mail will remain protected. I suppose that some systems could be set up offshore that retain the Wild West feel and allow people to vent or do whatever they want, but the tendency will be to track down the worst offenders.
The Yahoo! assault is the beginning of the end of all this. Personally, I think it's long overdue. The current mess has encouraged laziness and accomplished nothing positive.
I'm not even going to comment on the 'Personally, I think it's long overdue' remark...
Well, we should consider ourselves forewarned, I guess!