Showing posts with label social media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social media. Show all posts

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Court: Pseudonymous WeChat user cannot be libeled

As matter of law, statement is not 'of and concerning' plaintiff

Statements about a person on a social media platform are not defamatory as a matter of law when the person is known only by a pseudonym, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held this week.

Defendant and plaintiff exchanged spiteful messages in a WeChat group.  The group comprised 437 persons and was organized to support plaintiffs accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants in admission.  The defendant referred to the existence of "pink-news" about the plaintiff.  As the court explained the term, "'pink-news' is a Chinese expression that refers to sex gossip or rumors."

The trial court awarded judgment for the defendant on the pleadings on the alternative grounds that the plaintiff had failed to show damages, or that the allegation of "pink-news" was "imaginative expression" or "rhetorical hyperbole," not a factual assertion capable of defamatory meaning.

The Appeals Court affirmed on different grounds.  Plaintiff had been known in the chat group only by a pseudonym.  She failed to allege that anyone in the group knew her identity.  So she could not prove that the statement in question was "of and concerning" the plaintiff, as the test for defamation requires.

The Appeals Court disavowed the grounds of decision in the trial court.  The court's discussion of the "pink-news" issue suggested that there might have been some factual question about the meaning of the term as to preclude judgment on the pleadings.  And in a footnote, the court wrote that written communication in WeChat probably is libel, not slander, so would entitle a plaintiff at least to nominal damages under Massachusetts law.

Probably the "pink-news" allegation later would have failed for the reason the trial court supposed, even if further factual investigation was warranted.  Courts in a number of cases have recognized the hyperbolic nature of social media posts.  In 2018, recognition of "hyperbole" cost "Stormy Daniels" Stephanie Clifford her claim against Donald Trump for his tweet accusing her of a "con job."  In 2019, Elon Musk successfully defended a tweet in which he had referred to the plaintiff as "pedo guy."

At the same time, this anything-goes approach to social media means, for better and worse, that tort law cannot be relied on as a social media regulator in our age of coarsening discourse.

The case is Li v. Zeng, No. AC 19-P-1546 (Mass. App. Ct. Nov. 3, 2020).  The opinion was authored by Justice James R. Milkey for a unanimous panel that also comprised Justice Wendlandt and Chief Justice Green.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Media law journal covers social media and fair trial, mugshot privacy, 'true threat,' China's FOIA, more

The latest edition of the Journal of Media Law & Ethics (8:2, Fall/Winter 2020) spans a range of fascinating issues.  Here is the table of contents from editor Eric Easton and publisher University of Baltimore Law School.

Social Media Access, Jury Restraint and the Right to a Fair Trial
Zia Akhtar

To Post or Not To Post: The Ethics of Mugshot Websites
Mark Grabowski

The Trouble with “True Threats”
Eric P. Robinson & Morgan B. Hill

Merely Window Dressing or Substantial Authoritarian Transparency? Twelve Years of Enforcing China’s Version of Freedom of Information Law
Yong Tang

Free Expression or Protected Speech? Looking for the Concept of State Action in News
Christopher Terry, Jonathan Anderson, Sarah Kay Wiley, & Scott Memmel

A description from Dr. Easton:

In the current issue, British lawyer Zia Akhtar takes a hard look at the use of social media by jurors in criminal trials and the accompanying concern that the rights of a defendant may be prejudiced by the practice. The article advocates a legal code that would prohibit juror access to information about a defendant’s previous record.  

Mark Grabowski follows with an examination of so-called “mugshot” websites through the lens of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The article concludes that, while mugshot sites are not an inherently unethical journalism practice, many news outlets present mugshots utilizing ethically dubious methods that urgently need to be reformed.

The need for clear standards governing the kinds of communication that can be considered unprotected “true threats” is demonstrated by the analysis of Eric Robinson and Morgan Hill in our third article. The authors point out that, when the Supreme Court had the opportunity to clarify the elusive concept, in Elonis v. United States and three subsequent cases, they failed to resolve the ambiguities of the doctrine, notwithstanding the prevalence of abusive language online.

It may surprise many of readers that freedom of information is alive, if not entirely well, in China. Based on a massive quantitative study, Yong Tang suggests that enforcement of freedom of information law in the PRC seems more forceful than many Western observers would expect, although there is scant evidence that the law has led to more accountability and better governance.

Finally, Christopher Terry and associates point out that the national press has been woefully remiss in explaining why the so-called censorship of right-wing and other voices by social media platforms is not an abridgment of First Amendment rights. While all likely readers of this journal understand the concept of “state action” in the First Amendment context, the media has generally left the public clueless.

I serve on the journal's editorial board.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Poli sci papers embrace power plant implosion, populist revolution, and constitutional convention

Here are a few of my favorite gleanings from yesterday's day one of the 2019 annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association in Portland, Maine, April 26-27, kicking off with the Brayton Point tower implosion this morning, Saturday, April 27.




The Brayton Point cooling towers are no more
(CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimaster97commons).
Imploded towers invite study of environmental law, policy, and urban aesthetics

Professor Aaron Ley, on the faculty at URI Political Science and also a town council member in Bristol, R.I., is working at the point where environmental law and policy meet public aesthetics.

After presenting on Friday, April 25, Ley left NEPSA to get back to the Massachusetts South Coast and witness the implosion Saturday morning, April 26, of the cooling towers at Brayton Point.  The towers have become a defining feature of the skyline in the region, so their absence in the vicinity of Fall River, Mass., and eastern Rhode Island will be an adjustment for locals (me included).  Though oft invoked as a symbol of adverse environmental impact, Ley explained at NEPSA, the towers functioned actually to mitigate the impact of the coal-fired power plant they grace, because they cooled water before it was released back into the Taunton River, sparing fish and their eggs from destructive warm water.

Ley is working interdisciplinarily with colleagues Bryce DuBois, lecturer at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Katherine LaCasse, in psychology at Rhode Island College, to complete survey and conventional research into public perceptions of urban spaces relative to environmental law and policy.  At NEPSA, Ley detailed the fascinating history of policing pollution in American waterways, from riverkeepers back to bounties on the 19th-century Hudson.


Are we living in Google and Facebook 'company towns'?
They have courts now


Professor Kevin McGravey at Merrimack College is collecting and analyzing social media cases to see whether the First Amendment public forum doctrine still has some vitality in deciding these disputes, such as the President's ability to mute or block Twitter users.  See Knight First Amendment Inst. v. Trump, 302 F. Supp. 3d 541 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (holding President's blocking of users on Twitter violated First Amendment requirement of viewpoint neutrality; now on appeal to Second Circuit). Cf. Packingham v. North Carolina (U.S. 2017) (holding social media restriction on registered sex offender violated First Amendment.)

The Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation, pictured here after WWI, owned the
Chickasaw, Ala., company town at issue in Marsh v. Alabama after WWII.
From Destroyer History Foundation.
McGravey thinks that the old company town case of Marsh v. Alabama (U.S. 1945) is relevant.  He concedes that the Marsh analogy to a social media platform was rejected by the court in Prager University v. Google, LLC, No. 17-CV-06064-LHK, 2018 WL 1471939 (N.D. Cal. 2018) (now on appeal to Ninth Circuit), in which the court refused to intervene in YouTube classifications and restrictions of PragerU's conservative political videos.  (See Eric Goldman's skepticism of the Marsh theory.)  But McGravey disagrees on a number of grounds, including the exclusivity of certain social media platforms as access avenues to public officials.

A company-town analogy doesn't get all the way to where we should be, McGravey admits, but the public forum doctrine might ought be reformed and extended to achieve worthwhile policy goals such as viewpoint neutrality on Facebook.  Still sounds like a stretch?  Well, consider, Mark F. Walsh in the latest ABA Journal reports on Facebook's plans to create a quasi-judicial appellate body to hear free speech claims.  Google already is adjudicating—internally and not transparently—right-to-erasure claims at the bidding of European data protection authorities.  Is that the town hall bell of the company town I hear?


Federalism panel spans Rehnquist Court, religious freedom,
and the 1825 Constitutional Convention that never was


A smattering of views from a panel on federalism and the administrative state: 
  • Christopher McMillion, Oklahoma Baptist University, is looking at the deep underpinnings of the "Rehnquist revolution" in federalism.  It's not about conservative politics, nor about federal power per se, he explained.  Rather, it's about protecting individual liberties—and actually the same kind of force can be witnessed in 10th-Amendment state jealousy of local officials' prerogatives relative to federal immigration enforcement.  
  • Beau Breslin, Skidmore College, is working on a book on the constitutional conventions the United States has never had.  Surely Article V of the U.S. Constitution contemplated conventions with some periodicity.  What if we had had one about every human lifespan?  An 1825 Constitution probably would have opened with a lengthy declaration of rights and would have created an explicit voting franchise for white landholders, Breslin theorizes.  Oh, and Madison would have been so peeved that he sat out the Second Convention.  What would have been the implications in U.S. history for the Constitution thusly revised?  What would the Constitution look like after a 2022 convention?  Breslin examines these questions in part with reference to the real evidence of evolving state constitutions.
  • Maine Gov. Baxter with Irish Setter Garry Owen
    (public domain)
    James Stoner, Louisiana State University, exposed the thinly veiled nuance of religious freedom questions in the United States, from Employment Division v. Smith (U.S. 1990) to present.  The courts have looked the other way from legislative prayer, for example, and for that matter from the intertwining of government and religious practice since the days of George Washington himself.  He concludes that the judiciary is ultimately not the best forum for resolution of debate over religion in American public life.
  • Sean Beienburg, Arizona State University, is researching the curious political journey of 1921-1925 Maine Governor Percival Baxter (namesake of Maine's beautiful Baxter State Park).  Republican Baxter advocated against the Ku Klux Klan at a time the Klan was making inroads with Maine Republicans.  He also staked out the political territory that would become Republicans' 20th-century economic libertarianism.  I note that Baxter was also an animal rights advocate before there was such a thing, and Maine's beautiful Baxter State Park is named for him.


Populist revolution and American electoral politics
are both about more than red versus blue


I moderated and discussed on an afternoon panel with three fantastic papers.
  • Erik Cleven, Christopher Galdieri, and Ashley Motta of Saint Anselm College are studying "down-ballot roll-off," when voters stop voting as they move down the ballot from "US Senator" to "Town Dogcatcher," or, really, "Register of Probate."  They set out to see whether there is merit in criticisms that voting college students dilute local electoral power because college students aren't interested in local races.  That turns out not to be true—not entirely true, anyway.  Looking at New Hampshire data, they found that new voters in a jurisdiction are responsible for down-ballot roll-off, and college students might just be part of that.  Other correlations arise with low education and lack of partisan tags to indicate party affiliation.  I suspect that an underlying cause is low information, a problem that dovetails with my own interest in transparency and affirmative disclosures of information to correct democratic deficit in developing political systems.
  • The "heartland-coastland" divide is more complicated than it seems and not
    merely an expression of partisan sympathies, R.I. political scientists June
    Speakman and Matthew Ulricksen show in new research.
  • Two papers were strikingly complementary.  Isaac Effner, Brown University, took the normative lens off of "populism" to recount how a populist labor movement effected the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike and contributed dramatically to the evolution of organized American labor and 20th-century norms for the protection of American (and for that matter global) workers.  Don't be too quick to judge populism in scoffing at frustrated voters who support Trump, is the lesson, because populism per se can be a force for the vital expression of human rights, notwithstanding a temporary flirtation with demagoguery along the way.  Effner notes that similar populist motivations animated support in the last election for both Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders.
  • And there comes to bear the remarkable work of Matthew Ulricksen, Community College of Rhode Island, and June Speakman, Roger Williams University and a representative in the Rhode Island legislature and former member of my Town Council in Barrington, R.I.  Ulricksen and Speakman showed some stunning maps of voting patterns in Rhode Island in the last election—I'd like to share, but they're not copyright-clear for my reuse; see the New York Times results.  Suffice to say the electoral maps reveal a deep divide in what looks like what Speakman and Ulricksen call a "heartland-coastland" divide, the former, Rhode Island's interior, Trump red, and the latter, in the salt air, Clinton blue.  Problem is, a number of data sets about who these voters are—wealth, ethnic identity, even partisan affiliation—do not actually bear out the divide.  What does?  Spoiler alert: population density.  What's more, because there is correlation with population density and not partisan loyalty, the heartland proves as receptive to Bernie Sanders's message as to Donald Trump's.  Speakman and Ulricksen identify one factor that explains voter behavior across the board: being "mad as hell."  The research leaves off there, but implications and questions abound for what will make an effective political movement in the future to capture increasingly alienated voters—and what conditions might trigger a populist revolution analogous to the 1934 general strike, or something bigger.

The annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association wraps up today, when I'll be presenting some findings on access to information and social and economic development in eastern Europe.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Claim to Facebook fortune dismissed in Mass. appeal

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals Wednesday affirmed dismissal in tort, contract, and equity claims by a software developer against principals behind Facebook-predecessor company ConnectU.

The Winklevosses (CC BY-SA 2.0 cellanr)
Wayne Chang (commencement address at UMass Amherst in 2016) alleged that he was entitled to a some portion of the $65m in cash and stock received by ConnectU's twin brothers and "bitcoin billionaires" Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in settlement with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  That mediated settlement ended litigation in California and Massachusetts in 2008; Chang initiated the instant action in 2009.  Bringing the case to a close at last, the Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed with the lower court that Chang had severed business ties with the Winklevosses before they entered settlement negotiations with Zuckerberg.  The court also affirmed award to the Winklevosses of $30,000 in costs.

The case is Chang v. Winklevoss, No. AC 18-P-329 (Mass. Ct. App. Apr. 24, 2019).

Thursday, March 28, 2019

UMass Law Review hosts vibrant media law symposium

Today, as advertised, the UMass Law Review hosted a symposium on media law. The program videos are all on Facebook Live.  Check my Twitter feed for hot links to speakers' handles.  Three panels were organized by media "platform," from politics to digital to entertainment, raising issues from the investigative journalism to data breach law to streaming music copyright.  The program concluded with a keynote address by Richard P. Flaggert, a DLA Piper media attorney.  Here are some highlights:

After a thoughtful welcome by UMass Law Dean Eric Mitnick, UMass Law Professor Jeremiah Ho started the program with a discussion of why media matter.  The problem of law and policy, he said, is the gulf between "what matters" and "what excites us," with the media business model tending to cater to the latter.  Professor Ho is a co-adviser of the UMass Law Review.





  

Kicking off the first panel of the day, Rep. Christopher Markey, New Bedford, Mass., attorney, Commonwealth legislator, and UMass Law alumnus, gave the political perspective.  Money has distorted news from being an educational tool to being entertainment, he explained.  People must be media literate to elicit truth from what they see, hear, and read.  Recalling his years as a district attorney, Markey said that attorneys and judges were "better" when a beat reporter was sitting in the courtroom, that journalism "makes government better."  But those beat reporters are no longer there.

Jillian Fennimore provided her perspective from inside the busy office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.  A journalism graduate of the University of New Hampshire with many years experience in media, Fennimore explained the challenge of making the work of the state's law office intelligible and meaningful to citizens, whether the subject matter is investigation of the opioid crisis, antitrust enforcement, or protection of a consumer whose vacuum cleaner broke.  AG Healey cares about all of these things because she understands that these are things people care about, Fennimore said.  My Torts II class has been looking at the impact of the Healey opioid investigation on the crisis and litigation nationwide.

Peter Ubertaccio, a dean and political scientist at Stonehill College, gave an academic perspective on news and media law.  Those of us of a certain age remember the local TV news anchors of our youth, he observed.  That is not true for our children.  Journalism today is "atomized," lacking the "rhythm" of television before the information age, even if the internet is "democratiz[ing]."  There is more content available through more conduits than ever before, Ubertaccio explained, yet there is less availability of accurate information.  We are entering a golden age of television entertainment while at the same time entering a dark age of information, he said.  Incidentally, yes, I remember my anchors.  And I was privileged to have worked with Baltimore's great Al Sanders for a short time before he passed away.

A star of the first panel was Dee DeQuattro, UMass Law alumna, staff attorney for Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, and creator of the Boots on the Ground Heroes Memorial.  DeQuattro talked about her experiences in radio and television, most recently as an assignment manager for ABC6 News in Providence, Rhode Island, then her transition to a public relations and later legal capacity for the veterans organization, Operation Stand Down.  DeQuattro went to journalism school to hold power accountable in the tradition of Woodward and Bernstein, she said.  But "news doesn't work that way anymore," as bottom-line focused detracted from serious political reporting.  After covering the Boston Marathon bombing, she went to law school.  She still uses her familiarity with news media, driven by money savings and visual imagery, to manage public affairs in her nonprofit work.

Law Review co-adviser Professor Dwight Duncan moderated the second panel, on digital media.  Professor Andrew Beckerman-Rodau of Suffolk Law School and the Intellectual Property Center opened with a comprehensive overview of data protection, including data breach and Big Data analytics, in American law today.



Attorney Hollie Lussier of Bristol County Savings Bank told the audience about the large role data protection and privacy play in legal practice today, especially in the financial sector.  She warned attorneys to consider insurance liability limits, as $100,000, she said, won't cut it.  She cited a recent case of a "small" data breach that nevertheless generated a $140 million loss.  The breach could have been prevented, she said, with a $10,000 "penetration test."  Making matters more hazardous, she explained, many insurance policies will not cover consequential damages, which make up most of that mega-million loss.

Rhode Island attorney and legislator Stephen Ucci concurred on the importance of data protection to contemporary practice.  He referenced a recent in case in which only 300 records were exposed.  Despite seemingly straightforward facts, the exposure of data has different implications for each data subject, he explained; moreover, breach across state borders implicates the laws of 50 states as well as federal laws, such as the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act.  The complexity of even a small case is thus multiplied.  Ucci discussed the data breach legislation adopted by Rhode Island in 2015 and plans to beef up education and implementation in the near future.

UMass Law Professor Dustin Marlan moderated the third panel, on the subject of entertainment law.  Attorney and educator Richard Kent Berger started off the afternoon program talking about music copyright.  He explained the significance of the Music Modernization Act of 2018 and related legislation and pending proposals.  Royalties are now owed for digital streaming, and some pre-1972 musical works that had lost copyright protection have had their authors' royalty rights restored.  The law also revamped the approach to orphan works and afford them greater protection against loss of copyright.  Previously large content providers such as Google's YouTube were able to use a notice process on a massive scale to shake potentially orphaned works free of their copyright protection.

Seattle University Law Professor Bryan Adamson, a mass media scholar, talked about the importance of framing in media, especially in news reporting, and especially in coverage of protest movements. Media frames tend to perpetuate social stability, he explained, and as a result, tend to perpetuate racial hegemony.  The portrayals viewers see might not fairly represent the facts, and, as a result, he said, rather than contributing to the public dialog, media narratives might "derail" meaningful discussion of sensitive topics such as race and social and economic equality.

Rhode Island attorney Richard E. Kühn talked about the importance of social media to attorneys.  Social media are part of contemporary legal practice across the board, he explained, touching on areas including lawyer advertising, client counseling, evidentiary investigation and spoliation, and trial practice and voir dire.  He recited recent case rulings demonstrating that failure to take social media into account, for example in evidentiary investigation, may result in a finding of legal malpractice.

DLA Piper attorney Richard P. Flaggert (not speaking on behalf of clients or the firm) gave the keynote address of the symposium, discussing contemporary media law practice.  Flaggert, who is licensed in California, Massachusetts, and England and Wales, started off by reminding that Shakespeare's "kill all the lawyers" lines was an admonition against unethical or incompetent practice, not actually an indictment of the professional.

He then spoke about two key doctrinal developments in media law practice.  First, he discussed the potential impact on free speech and commerce of the newly adopted EU Copyright Directive, in particular the article 11 "link tax" and the article 13 "upload filter measure."  Both threaten a chilling effect, he explained.  The former purports to give copyright protection to even a "snippet"—the actual word, undefined in the law—of content, putting at risk a range of content from Google news aggregation to "your blog."  Meanwhile article 13 imposes the burden of protecting against copyright infringement on ISPs, abandoning reliance on the notice-and-takedown approach of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  As a result, even "your blog" content might be tied up for weeks or longer as ISPs mull over whether you have violated copyright, likely prompting prophylactic censorship.  I note: not unlike Europe's approach to the right to be forgotten, now miring Google in a new administrative bureaucracy, not to mention the risk of Goliath gate-keeping under non-transparent private-sector control.  

Second, Flaggert talked about the problem of copyright and live fan captures of sporting events and the like.  As technology improves and recording devices become harder to detect and control, event providers such as sporting authorities will have a more difficult time policing the difference between the odd fan photo and the HD-streaming pirate.  The French solution has been to regulate, Flaggert explained, giving near absolute control to providers, a strategy of obviously problematic dimension.  Meanwhile in the United States, no body of intellectual property law, such as federal copyright or state common law, seems up to addressing the problem.  Event providers are confounded at the choice between loss of control of their intellectual property and alienation of their fan base with its abiding affection for social media.  Meanwhile the problem poses a threat to our fine-line precedents and the delicate balance between INS v. AP IP rights and the "hot news" doctrine, which has kept the peace for decades.

The village idiot moderated the first panel. Here
he is about to laugh at one of his own bad jokes.
Once a lawyer who represented ESPN before it ceded its design to bring Premier League coverage to America, I asked Flaggert 1:1 whether NBC, with its unsatisfying and impossibly expensive array of cannibalized Premiere League coverage for U.S. viewers, intends to be destroying soccer in America, or is just doing so indifferently.  He shared his frustration with access to Liverpool matches.  I'm not sure why one would necessarily want to see Liverpool, unless they were playing directly against ManC.  But I appreciate his empathy.

A big congratulations to the UMass Law Review, especially editor Casey Shannon, for executing a superb symposium, with my sincere thanks for bringing these talents to our campus.

Monday, November 26, 2018

CFP: UMass Law Review calls for papers, presentations in law and media

The UMass Law Review has issued the following call for papers. Download the call in PDF here, and please share it with any interested scholarly communities.

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS LAW REVIEW
CALL FOR SYMPOSIUM PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS

November 14, 2018

We are pleased to announce the 2019 UMass Law Review Roundtable Symposium, currently titled “Law and Media.” In the age where the 24/7 news cycle and social media have impacted current politics and where data protection, personal branding, and technology have affected entertainment and media as well as the rule of law, an investigation of the relationship between law and the media of our current times is timely and warranted. Accordingly, the UMass Law Review seeks thoughtful, insightful, and original presentations relating to the impact of the law on media as well as the impact of media on the law.

Interested participants should submit a 500-word abstract to cshannon@umassd.edu, with “Attn: Conference Editor – Symposium Submission” in the subject line by December 31st, 2018 for consideration. Selected participants will be notified by the end of January and invited to present their work at the 2019 UMass Law Review Symposium taking place in late March of 2019. Selected participants may also submit a scholarly work for potential publication in the 2019-2020 UMass Law Review Journal. If you have questions about submissions or the Symposium, please contact our Business/Conference Editor, Casey Shannon or Editor-In-Chief, Kayla Venckauskas (kvenckauskas@umassd.edu). We thank you in advance for your submission.

Sincerely,

Kayla Venckauskas
Editor-in-Chief

Casey Shannon
Business/Conference Editor

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson



In an afterword to his 2015 book, Jon Ronson reported that So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed was not the first-draft title.  

Indeed, it must have been a struggle to name this wide-ranging volume.  Ronson explores shame in many contexts, from the woman whose off-color joke about AIDS on Twitter “blew up [her] life” (as the N.Y. Times put it) to the clients of a busted prostitution outfit, to the featured participant in “a German-themed BDSM orgy” (as the New Statesman put it).  I’m not here naming the Twitter woman, because if you read the book, I think you’ll agree she’s been named—and shamed—more than enough.

By Ronson’s broad definition of public shaming, I’ve been there.  Ronson does little to distinguish those who fairly earned some degree of public shaming—such as a journalist who made up quotes—from those who were disproportionately rebuked, or just misunderstood, or falsely maligned.  Ronson’s light touch with judgment—he admits he has not always been so evenhanded in his own social media life—frustrated me at first, as I’m one who likes to see justice done, or at least to wring my hands when it’s not.  However, I came to appreciate Ronson’s approach.  His reluctance to reach normative conclusions forced me, as reader, to acknowledge my own.  Do I really know how This American Life fact-checks, say, David Rakoff, versus Mike Daisey (see “Retraction”)?  Do I need to have an opinion at all on what consenting adults do in their sex dungeon?  (See also extended adventures with Jon Ronson in the porn world at his 2017 podcast, The Butterfly Effect, coming to iTunes free in November.)

Judgment would get in the way of Ronson’s search.  Chapter to chapter, Ronson leads us in a dogged effort to understand the shaming mob.  (Cf. the excellent work of Prof. Ken Westhues on mobbing.)  When does the mob spring into action, and when does it not?  Ronson tells stories of public shamings from the perspectives of the victims.  He went to the trouble of tracking them all down to get their stories; the Internet doesn’t usually bother.  (In my experience, neither does The New York Times, nor even a respectable author.)  Can the victim do anything to fight back against a public shaming?  Ronson gives us a fascinating glimpse into the sometimes shady world of online reputation management.  And ultimately:  Is there such a thing as redemption in the Internet age?

That was the question that kept me turning pages.  Coverage of Ronson’s book since 2015 really obsessed on the implications of social media, but this book is about so much more than that.  Despite my ongoing research into online erasure, or “the right to be forgotten” (e.g., here and here, and an exciting panel discussion at NCA 2016, reported here and here), I was surprised to see Ronson make the connection.  He considers the RTBF later in the book, tackling the conflicted feelings about RTBF that a lot of people in the journalism world have over interacting rights to expression, privacy, and identity. 

I continue to be captivated by the redemption problem, which I wrote about in a Washington Post opinion column some years ago.  I won’t tell where Ronson’s search leads, because that would spoil the fun.  Suffice to say, there’s plenty of work yet to do, if justice is really our aim.