At a dinner at DLD we were discussing the issue of libel and I was surprised to find one participant defending the UK law that allows Lord McAlpine to sue individuals who (re)tweeted an allegation against him. Apparently the amounts asked for depend on follower count. This approach seems to run counter our views of the importance of free speech which makes libel suits very difficult in the US. But as I started to think more about it I do believe we have a problem that may need some kind of solution.
I am not convinced yet that we need some new regulation and have no idea what form it should take. But I have written about information cascades before and they are real as in fact the example of Lord McAlpine example illustrates. Also, I was pretty revolted when I read about what’s happening with so-called revenge porn sites and the take down businesses that are associated with them. The latter seem to be something that could be targeted by existing laws against extortion. But I am not sure how to deal with the sites themselves.
The problem repeating a wrong allegation and the sharing of personal picture or film are both acts that have existed (the latter probably as long as pictures or films). But with the Internet the reach and hence impact of these have been magnified extraordinarily. Again — I don’t know what the right thing to do is here, but it would be naive to say there isn’t a problem here — just as naive as thinking that simply applying existing laws is likely to be the solution.