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A Redwood City, California man has sued Google over an anonymous blog that contains posts with false information about him, which he says is ruining his reputation and ranks at the top of Google search results results for his name, above his nonprofit foundation and the foundation’s highly rated iOS application.
Joseph Ekman says the blog, which has only one entry dated 2008, contains false information about him. The blog appears at the top of search results if you search for “Joe” Ekman (not Joseph).
Examples of falsehoods that the blog post states are that Ekman’s mother lives in assisted living (she does not, and even showed up at a Friday hearing to testify in his behalf), that he didn’t graduate high school (which he did).
A small claims judge has already ruled in Ekman’s favor. On Friday as Google appealed that decision. Google attorney Akisha Patterson said, “We’re not creating the content. We’re just providing a service that promotes free speech. If we were to remove every blog if someone doesn’t like that blog, it would seriously endanger free speech.”
ISPs and online website content providers such as Google are generally considered to be protected against copyright infringement by their users by what’s called the “Safe Harbor” provision of the DMCA. Legal experts chimed in and said they feel that Google is in the clear on this issue as well, at least as far as damages go.
ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson said “I think Google’s on solid ground as the law is stated right now. They’re no more responsible for the content that goes through their ISP than say Barnes and Noble would be responsible for the content of the books that it sells.”
However, in terms of whether or not Google should be forced to pull down the blog or reveal the poster’s identity, that’s a gray area, Johnson added. The judge agreed with Ekman, and ordered Google to reveal the blog owner’s name in the next 20 days. The judge also stated that he would issue a ruling on whether or not Google must take down the blog next week.
This is really a form of cyberbullying, which has been popularized on Facebook and MySpace, particularly among teens who feel have taken such behavior off the playground and schoolyard and onto the Internet, where it is for all the world to see.
This incident also points out how easy the Internet makes anonymous, defamatory statements and posts. It’s been said before that people are much more willing to make the sorts of comments they would never make in person — or in any other way — online, because they feel they can remain hidden.