|FINDING LIMITS IN CYBERSPACE|
Online, does everything go?
September 8, 1997
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Questions answered in this forum: Will independent cyberjournalists have access to political sources? Shouldn't cybernauts just trust their own judgement? Could newsgroup posts be considered libelous? Could libel suits squelch freedom of speech online? Should libel laws be updated to reflect the digital age? Viewer comments on online credibility
August 28, 1997
The NewsHour reports on questionable news on the 'Net.
December 25, 1996
A panel discussion on how the Internet fared in 1996.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of cyberspace and law.
The U.C.L.A Online Institute for Cyberspace Law and Policy.
Mary Fister of St. Peter, MN, writes:
I know of a court case where an American named Errol Back-Cunnigham is suing a South African named Sabelo Ndabazandile because, as I see it, the two had an argument on Usenet and the plaintiff made the Sabelo's work place a bit touchy by calling and getting in the way of clients, etc. The case really hasn't gotten anywhere yet, I believe, and I don't even know where it would be held or with what laws given that it is an international thing.
As for the Drudge Report I don't think Matt Drudge should be crucified for his report. He said that not all his stories are accurate, at least he could admit that. Sidney Blumental is somewhat of a public figure. I think he should certainly seek an apology or something like that from Matt Drudge but it doesn't warrant a court case and certainly doesn't warrant $30 million.
Remon Lapid of Chatham, NJ, writes:
Your Online Forum poses two questions. The first one concerns recognizing the authenticity of the information distributed on the Web. This is a techology issue, and is easily answered by "digital signature" technology which is gaining in popularity. Once in common use, this will lay to rest any question about the source of a Web document.
The tricker question is: given that private individuals have such wide access to "publishing" information on the Web, should they be held accountable for the damage they can do, such as the alleged libel against Mr. Blumenthal.
What we have to recognize is that the Internet has changed the relationship between journalism and private correspondence. In the past the damage that an individual could wreak as a result of printing a flyer was limited by how widely he was likely to be able to distribute it. This justified tipping the scales of justice in favor of First Amendment rights. The professional journalist, on the other hand, has always been held accountable for libelous statements because of his access to much wider distribution (and consequent damage to his victim). This discrepancy has all but been wiped out by the advent of the Internet, and therefore the issue of legal liability must be revisited.
Michael D. Smith of Tarrant, AL, writes:
I think you have a lot of gaul charging the Internet news with being lawless. You are afraid there will be some counter point to your's and Ted Turners and Hanoi Jane's communist proproganda and you are deperately trying to control it.
Bob McKenzie of Concord, CA, writes:
It is the responsibility of each individuals to do their own research and come up with their own opinions. If you know a source is unreliable, you will stop reading their column or not visit there site. On the other hand, why do tabloid magazines succeed? Do you believe everything in these magazines? Probably not.
Lboscacc of California writes:
Basically, what I trust when I get my daily dose of news are for now a very narrow number of sources. PBS is at the top, as is CNN and ITN. USA Today seems to be legit also, though not in the same caliber as the others. Money magazine is also strong in my view.
Karl Loveless of South Charleston, OH, writes:
Who do I trust?
Almost anyone who is consistent in thought, word, and deed and who in their consistency does me right or does me no harm. In general, I distrust PBS/NPR and any other entity that seeks its gain through gubmint-granted privilege. Those "persons" are manipulated puppets. They carry no credence. I do listen to NPR and PBS, but only to learn the most hysterical public elements of my opposing ideology.
Dan Mccoy of Housatonic, MA, writes:
How do you tell the legitimate news from the bogas and often self serving news of magazines, tabloids and newspapers on your newstand? Anyone out there believe everything they read from the main stream press? We each find our own truths in what we read, see and hear. The beauty of the Internet is our chance to read all viewpoints...not just those selected for us. Do you feel most people are so stupid they can't come to an intelligent conclusion without being hand fed answers and conclusions? People from all over the earth talking, expressing, exchanging ideas. We should take a long hard look at the people and the governments who are afraid of this exchange of free speech and seek out the "why" of their actions.
Jerry Wesner of Albuquerque, NM, writes:
I teach two eleventh-grade enriched (college prep) U.S. history classes at a public high school. On one hand, I want to encourage my students to use the Internet to locate information not readily available in Albuquerque. However, I know that anyone can establish a home page; some of the most scurrilous are technologically advanced. Those from recognized sources -- Harvard, the Library of Congress -- are beyond question or reproach. But what's to keep some charlatan from presenting biased or even false information on a site which, to all but the most sophisticated, appears perfectly legitimate? Must I limit my sources to those I already know, to avoid this? If so, I also limit the Internet's value. But if not, I risk even worse than an experience we had last year: a girl, reporting on the Ku Klux Klan found herself being invited to join! Worse would be lies masquerading as academically dependable information I know that verification is one answer, but there are time limitations that apply.
George L. Charpied of Quncy, MA, writes:
People like Drudge are not so much a problem as an example of typical human behavior. If the Internet/Web are to be regulated then let it be regulated for ease of access, low cost, elimiation of 'push' technology and freedom of expression. To pretend that all the things that are now condemed as excesses are little more than a reflection of what truly exists in society today. Keep in mind that the Internet/Web require active effort to lookup and view quasi-information of gossip mongers, pedophiles, or pornographers. Not like television or radio, or even magazines, where content and presentation and its obvious bias, are decided by individuals who make decisions on what appeals to the 'least common denominator,' amplifies profits, and ensures personal aggrandizement. I'll take an information source that requires my efforts to seek out whatever information I choose, and that allows me to make the decision as to what is meaningful and what is not. The Internet/Web, I believe, brings into very sharp focus the need for an educational system that emphasizes enculcation of critical analysis. No more will the educational expectation be simply the rote memorization of data for regurgitation by examination. Let us be upset by an inability to discern shades of gray rather than adoption of arbitrary black and white bias of the views of others. Thank you.
Don Dukate of Ora Valley writes:
I trust the major news services ie: NewsHour, CNN and the majors. I generally read reliable online papers such as the New Your Times FAX and U.S. Today online.
I feel if a person is generally "up" on the news of the day they should have no serious problem with what they can trust online.
If it sounds to good to be true - you know......
Thomas W. Lamb of Stockton, CA, writes:
Come on! With every newspaper, radio and TV news story "tuned" to grab attention, who believes anything the media puts out? Unless there is a video of the action acompanying the verbiage, you can't really tell the truth from the "spin." Come to think of it, now that computer imaging is so advanced, we can't even tell if the video is not doctored. So, with the heat on the media, the best way to dodge the issues is to go after the Internet. I do think the NPR and ETV news people uphold the real traditions of journalism, but the rest are sinking to the level of the National Inquirer to make money. When the sex life of the President of the United States gets far more attention than the fact that Congress allowed the Tobacco Industry write themselves a 50 billion dollar tax gift in the budget, something is amiss. Basically, that is real news that we don't hear much about. What it really means is we could do away with the great expense of maintaining 1/3 of our government by simply eliminating Congress and allowing special interest groups to write the laws!
A.K.Bobb,Jr., of Missouri writes:
As with all new things everyone is bound to push the limits. In this way we decide what is right or wrong. With free speech comes every opinion that the individual is right. Who decides what that is to be.
With every process we as free people make decisions on what can be done in our lives. The voting process is a major way to do this in our society today. Only a small number vote and that decides the total outcome for everyone.
The ratings on Web pages should be enough to identify any page that is of question. Let this be our guide line for this new media that is supported on the Web.
Stan Bernstein of New York, NY, writes:
I take strong exception to your characterization of Internet discussion of the downing of Flight 800 as questionable or misleadilng. Our military, intelligence, and security establishments have a long history of mendacity (usually justified by national security interests). Remember the Francis Gary Powers incident? Remember the Vincennes? Remember the JFK assassination?
Bill Serrahn of Seattle, WA, writes:
In the August 28th program segment on Internet law, moderated by Elizabeth Farnsworth, you featured the front page of IAN Goddard's Web site. I took this to imply that Mr. Goddard's Web site is an example of unreliable or untrue information to be found on the Internet. I kept waiting for someone to say exactly what misinformation was to be found at Mr. Goddard's site, but no reference was forthcoming.
Do you think it is fair to imply that Mr. Goddard is a prime example of a purveyor of misinformation without citing the basis for it or giving him a chance to debate the issue?
Internet publishers give us a detailed analysis of information that we don't get in the mainstream press and provide additional dimensions to the often narrow public debate offered there. The net has really just come into it's own in the last couple of years and everything is evolving. Internet users expect much more of Internet journalists such as IAN Goddard and won't waste their time reading his material if it doesn't have a basis in fact or his arguments and opinions don't make sense. I know that Mr. Goddard's opinions have been tempered in much public debate on forums that he participates in. They don't stay on his Web site, if they fail to meet the scrutiny of this type of peer review.
I suggest that you include Mr. Goddard in any future debate of this type -- you might learn something.
Patricia Schwarz of Pasadena, CA, writes:
I was a journalism student a long time ago and I wasn't completely impressed by the objectivity or ethics of my professors, who were "men of print." For one thing, every last one of them was a drunk, and all the students were encouraged to drink very heavily with them. Some of them were certifiable bigots. There have been a lot of falsehoods and semi-truths spread via print. William Randolph Hearst never heard of the Internet when he perfected yellow journalism. What makes the Internet any more or less reliable a medium for news transmission than the old-fashioned methods our civiliation is growing out of?
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