The Young Turks Accuse Sites of Slander
The Young Turks Attack Gripe Sites While Supporting Section 230
We recently found out that The Young Turks mentioned us in a video last year. We probably would have noticed it sooner, but the mention was entirely oral in the video with no mention of us or our founder in text form. At the time The New York Times had just published an article featuring two of our sites and we were monitoring mentions of it, but our monitoring technique focused on domains of ours mentioned in the body of the article to avoid getting a Google Alert for every link to the article containing the fictitious term "slander industry." The Young Turks released the video on their YouTube channel on May 8, 2021 titled "Slander Industry Is Booming Online" starring Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian. The video is embedded below the body of this article. The video includes several personal attacks against our founder as well as an admission that a key piece of legislation which protects online service providers such as ourselves should not be changed.
"Slander Industry" is Fake News
It is not possible for any industry which traffics entirely in written statements to be accurately labeled a "slander" industry because the word "slander" by definition refers solely to spoken words (see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slander). Even when a written statement is false it cannot be accurately called "slander." A false written statement is by definition "libel" not "slander" (see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/libel). Any media outlet that wishes to be taken seriously should not put out stories with such obviously inaccurate titles. We were surprised that the story was so prolifically circulated by people taking it seriously despite the title. One would think that any average reader or viewer with so much as a high school education would realize that the title couldn't possibly be true, so the story itself should not be taken seriously. Professional journalists should know better than to use such inaccurate labels. Stories with grammatically incorrect titles such as these are at best fake news.
Cenk Uygur Acknowledges Need to Protect Section 230
Despite the story being something not to be taken seriously as a whole, Cenk Uygur did speak one obvious and important truth. He said that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act needs to be left alone. That is an impressive admission for someone in the middle of an emotional tirade. Uygur's exact words beginning at about 8:35 were as follows:
"Section 230 is critical. You almost can't have any websites without 230's protection. So, I wouldn't want to get rid of that at all... Then you know the thing with politicians. They'll just use it for their own, "now you're not allowed to criticize me online, all the independent things should be shut down." We know how that goes." - Cenk Uyguy
We too know how that goes. It would kill most independent media in the United States if Section 230 were changed in a manner capable of rendering anyone liable for someone else's words just because they happen to own the platform used by that other person. We think the problem needs to be fixed at the other end of connection. That other end being that of the reader. People need to learn not to use unverified information as the basis for important decisions. In some cases, such as employment screening, we think people need to be banned from using internet searches if not entirely than at least until they determine a candidate is otherwise qualified from the job. That could be accomplished with legislation similar to Ban the Box.
Ban the Box
Ban the Box legislation restricts the use of criminal background checks in the hiring process. Typically hiring managers are banned from conducting a criminal background check until they have determined that an applicant is otherwise qualified. At that point they still need to get written permission from the applicant and must give the applicant an opportunity to explain what is found. We think the same thing needs to be done with search engine boxes. Learn more at https://postalmostanything.com/5065/new-employment-discrimination-laws-would-nullify-online-defamation
Response to Character Attacks
Cenk Uygur mentioned the website STDCarriers.com and its founder by name before attacking his character. The founder of STD Carriers is also the founder of Post Almost Anything. Uygur said:
"They pick you one by one and say the worst things about you and now its on your Google results and god help you if you don't have money. How are you, how are you going to get it out of there? You can't and then everybody sees that this is a result on you. Its just the worst thing you've ever seen." - Cenk Uygur
Nothing could be further from the truth. A computer that accepts inputs from users doesn't pick anybody. People pick it by signing up for a membership and submitting data via a form. We find it hard to believe that any website could be "the worst thing you've ever seen." Uygur often covers far worse things including terrorists (https://tyt.com/watch/2e3H6nfrtnrzK0N4G4EC0n/clips/7JnMMxG0F0W5Hb2nXy6KhC), shooting protesters (https://tyt.com/watch/4VwNLvsEH8CWRXXS1aeCPB/clips/3UuptLjD0529JMeiDx4ynv), and Donald Trump (https://tyt.com/watch/2e3H6nfrtnrzK0N4G4EC0n/clips/3Q8HsqA30XNVMJrqRDf3Gs). Could Uygur really keep a straight face and say that a first page Google result from STD Carriers is worse than Donald Trump? Of course he couldn't because the suggestion alone is ridiculous. Also ridiculous is his claim that gripe sites are "slandering people for profit." That statement ignores the simple facts that the sites did not create the content and written statements are never "slander."
Uygur went on to attack the owner of STD Carriers personally in response to him telling the New York Times, "teach children not to talk to strangers, then teach them not to believe what they read on the internet." Rather than acknowledge the fact that none of the alleged harms allegedly caused by the website would be possible if people didn't believe what they read online, he mocks him by saying, "ok, so this guy is just saying I'm helping people lie and ruing other people's lives. Ha ha teach your kids that there are horribly evil people like me online... These guys are the most vicious liars and least moral people on the planet." Uygur then went on a rant before calling the STD Carriers owner, "a terrible person." He then labels reputation management fees "ransom" as if some crime had been committed. The word "ransom" means "a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity." (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ransom). We do not hold anything or anyone captive. Any suggestion that we demand a ransom for anything is not accurate.
This type of talk is typical of people trying to criminalize something. They start referring to people, things, and activities using words typically associated with crime because they hope if they get enough people thinking about it in that way eventually it will lead to criminalization. They start calling people "victims" when no law has been broken because if it were up to them a crime would have been committed. We saw this behavior in Oregon recently when doxxing was made a tortious offense by leftists that got together after protesters were getting doxxed by Andy Ngo. Local media outlets started doing stories portraying the subjects of doxxing as victims even though no law had been broken. Eventually the legislature passed an unconstitutional bill which will never survive a competent challenge in court.
Uygur made an appeal to the government to do something, but seems unaware that the government did try to do something and it did not work. In 2012 the feds charged the founder of STD Carriers with making threatening communications after a deranged stalker had harassed and swatted his family. The court ruled that because the stalker was motivated by a desire to get her name removed from the site that the business was reasonably related to the offense. Due to the "reasonably direct relationship" which the 9th Circuit upheld, he was effectively banned from running any websites for three years after serving two years for the threat. While serving his time, he picked up additional charges for assaulting a federal employee and impeding a federal officer. As a result of these actions STDCarriers.com was offline from July of 2012 until September of 2019. The owner of STD Carriers figured somebody might try to set him up someday, so he didn't keep backups of his sites in his home. His defense team was also able to recover all the contents of his offshore server. As a result the sites never fell into government hands and he was able to run them again once he was no longer on supervised released for the threat. The government made it clear that they would prosecute him for any violation of federal law they could find to get around the fact that the business itself is not illegal. Back then he wasn't the only one targeted by law enforcement. Other owners of gripe sites ended up in prison for unrelated legal troubles that would not have been exploited by the government had they not been looking for excuses to lock them up. The case should have been challenged on the grounds of selective prosecution, but his lawyer was incompetent. The founder of STD Carriers learned his lesson and has not sent any threatening emails to anyone for nearly 10 years.
What Should Be Done
Ana Kasparian painted an accurate picture of Congress when it comes to legislation involving technology, "Congress is full of a bunch of, honestly people who can't even legislate on things they understand much less things they don't understand like the internet." Then they discuss their desire for new laws without touching Section 230. Uygur then expressed his desire for someone to bury us with frivolous lawsuits as if they could overwhelm us by forcing us to file so many motions to dismiss that we don't have time for anything else. Some people would lose money on legal fees due to such things, but the owner of STD Carriers is a prolific pro se litigant perfectly capable of getting lawsuits dismissed at the summary judgment phase all by himself.
We have already discussed one thing that should be done. Banning employers from doing internet searches of applicants until they determine they are otherwise qualified for the job and are given a chance to explain themselves. Employers should not be able to legally screen applicants by just Googling names and eliminating those with negative information in the search results without further inquiry. They can't do it with criminal records which are more accurate, so why should they be allowed to do it with the internet which is far less reliable?
Google took the approach of demoting our sites in search results for personal identifiers. As a result you rarely see direct links to STD Carriers in Google results for names of people. However, because this penalty seems to be a manual one imposed on a per domain basis it is quite easy to circumvent simply by hosting the content in more than one place. Other webmasters have figured this out as well. In some cases it seems they re-brand their sites using new domain names every couple of months. When that happens it can take a few months for the penalty to be applied to the new domain. When the penalty is applied the process repeats. We've also considered moving the main STD Carriers site from its .com TLD to a different one like .net or .org, but we have a little brand recognition so we don't want to take STDCarriers.com down. Normally people redirect visitors from the old one, but that would cause the penalty to follow automatically, so the best we could do would be to leave up a page saying we've moved with a link. We might start using a mirror or two instead of moving the site. We already have a site that syndicates our content which does not appear to be subjected to the penalty at this time despite being a copy of a site that had been penalized. The content and theme were the same with the only difference being the domain name. Domain names cost just under $10 a year and new sites can be added to most hosting packages without incurring additional expenses. In monetary terms it costs basically nothing to syndicate content onto new un-penalized domains on a regular basis.
Some have alleged that this practice makes sites "information content providers" under section 230 and therefore liable for statements contained within user generated content (UGC). They argue that syndication amounts to content "development" under Section 230. That simply is not true. Users grant us "an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, and distribute said Content" and agree that they alone are responsible for the content (https://postalmostanything.com/legal/tou). When we exercise our right to distribute content we do not create or develop it. Under this agreement the author is responsible for the content and we are granted distribution rights of content they alone remain responsible for. The words "create" of "develop" as used in section 230 does not cover copying, displaying, or distributing content. When a newspaper prints copies it is not creating or developing content because the content has already been created and developed. Most of the content is created and developed by the newspaper itself, so they are liable for that content. Other content is created and developed elsewhere before being copied, displayed, and distributed by the newspaper. That is the case when they syndicate content from affiliates. An article created and developed elsewhere before being copied, displayed, and distributed with proper source attribution effectively passes liability for the statements content within to the original author that created the content and those that helped develop it. If we were to sue The New York Times for libel on the grounds that they falsely accused us of slander, we would not be able to successfully add outlets that copied the article as defendants just because they syndicated the content. Syndication is usually a fully automated task that involves copying content from RSS feeds or APIs. When a machine does something automatically there is usually no person to blame. This can become confusing for users that think a person must have posted something.
"CDA 230 also offers its legal shield to bloggers who act as intermediaries by hosting comments on their blogs. Under the law, bloggers are not liable for comments left by readers, the work of guest bloggers, tips sent via email, or information received through RSS feeds. This legal protection can still hold even if a blogger is aware of the objectionable content or makes editorial judgments." - Electronic Frontier Foundation (https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230)
Unless the EFF is wrong we have the right to distribute content received through RSS feeds which is the case with our syndication site. The syndication site also monitors social media for people using phrases indicating that they are accusing someone of having a STD or admitting to having one themselves. We are not liable for that either because the content is created and developed elsewhere. Our site simply copies, displays, and distributes.
There is no such things as a "slander" industry. Cenk Uygur grossly exaggerated his objections with defamatory characterizations of the STDCarriers.com owner. Uygur went beyond simply quoting The New York Times to knowingly crafting lies of his own.