Reddit’s Ruinous Run Of Section 230

Over the weekend I started seeing rumors of Reddit losing the “safe harbor” provision Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act afforded them.

I started looking into the matter, and stopped when I read this piece by Keith Lee, proprietor of the blawg Associate’s Mind.

Give this a read. It’s seriously worth your time and effort, especially if you play around on Reddit or enjoy any of its content. Come back here when you’re done. I’ll wait.

___________

Back? Okay, a few additional thoughts.

I think Keith’s on the money with his analysis of what happened. He’s been a champion of the mantra “Lawyer Up Before You Startup,” and many companies continue to ignore this at their peril. I think Keith takes great pleasure in proving tech companies that love “disruption” wrong at every available opportunity. This is different. We’re not dealing with the future of Pokemon Go lawyering, we’re dealing with a CEO of a website that bills itself as the “front page of the internet” editing content because reasons.

That’s a big enough deal to consider the ramifications as we enter a new era where more people are pressuring social media sites like Facebook and large search engines like Google to flag “fake news” and report it, or reject it outright. What happens when Facebook takes the word of a J-Scho0l professor and decides to start tagging “news articles” as “fake” or “biased?” Does that pierce the protections § 230 provides? Only time will tell.

Next, I know Keith would have gotten a bit more nuanced with his post if he had the ability, but I gather he was short on time and wanted to get his thoughts out there. Give it a bit and I think you’ll see the story develop a little more, and Keith’s analysis a little more than what is on the table at the moment. Right now, it’s too early to tell and Thanksgiving isn’t usually a time for litigation. Since Steve Huffman decided to overreach in such a fashion, and abuse his power in the manner he did, I predict there will be at least one lawsuit, if not more, in the future.

In the meantime, be careful what you post on Reddit until this entire mess is resolved. Enjoy the sideshow that is the various subreddits. Watch, wait, and see what happens before you go whole hog with posting on Reddit again.

And remember if you’re a tech company “Lawyer Up Before You Startup” is a pretty darn good idea.

Lawbot, Meet Monty Python

First Keith Lee tried “Lawbot–the World’s Most Advanced Chatbot Lawyer.” It proved incredibly tone deaf to issues concerning sexual assault. Then Ken White at Popehat tried the bot through the experience of a client who got cheated by a drug dealer. My hypothetical came from a Monty Python sketch. Let’s see if I get justice for being sold a dead parrot by an unscrupulous pet shop owner.

LawBot

Hi, I’m LawBot, a robot lawyer designed to help you through this situation. Please tell me your name or say anonymous if you would rather not.

You

Chester

LawBot

Nice to meet you, Chester. I can help you understand if you have been the victim of a sex offence, a property offence, physical or psychological injury, or harassment. If you don’t understand what I am saying, just say so and I will explain. If you don’t understand a word, just ask me about it and I will give you a definition. Would you like to get started?

You

Sure

LawBot

Please describe briefly in one sentence what happened to you. Try to use words that people usually use when speaking about this issue to help me understand you.

You

A pet shop owner sold me a dead parrot.

LawBot

Sorry, could you try to explain that in a different way? Maybe be more specific about the incident?

You

I was sold a dead parrot by the owner of a pet store.

LawBot

Ok. Let’s try to get to the bottom of this. Say ‘crime’ to start the questionnaire.

You

crime

LawBot

Which topic suits the crime? You can say the topic or its number. 1. Sex Offences; 2. Injuries and Assault; 3. Harassment; 4. Property Offences; 5. None of these.

You

4

LawBot

Which topic matches your case? Say the number or the topic. 1. Theft; 2. Burglary; 3. Robbery; 4. Fraud; 5. Criminal Damage; 6. A different topic.

You

4

LawBot

This is a serious crime! I would like to ask you a few questions. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, just say so and I will explain. Are you ready?

You

Yes

LawBot

Great, let’s get started. Did someone say or do something, which was untrue or misleading?

You

Yes, he sold me a dead parrot and said it was sleeping.

LawBot

Hm, could you rephrase that? I didn’t understand. Did someone say or do something, which was untrue or misleading?

You

Yes

LawBot

Hm. Do you think the person knew that the representation was, or might have been, untrue or misleading?

You

Yes, I was sold a dead parrot and told it was hibernating.

LawBot

Sorry, didn’t get that. Was there a typo? Do you think the person knew that the representation was, or might have been, untrue or misleading?

You

Oh good grief. Yes.

LawBot

Sorry, didn’t get that. Was there a typo? Do you think the person knew that the representation was, or might have been, untrue or misleading? Alright. Do you think that an ordinary, reasonable and honest person would consider their conduct dishonest?

You

Yes. You usually don’t sell pet owners dead pets.

LawBot

Ok, Chester. Do you think the person who did this realized that an ordinary, reasonable and honest person would consider their conduct dishonest? Sorry, didn’t get that. Was there a typo? Note that under the term ‘ordinary, honest and reasonable person’ you should imagine a ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ person in society. Do you now think the person realized it?

You

Yes, I think he realized the parrot was dead when he sold it to me.

LawBot

Ok, glad I could clarify. Do you think the person did this in order to make a gain for themselves or another or to cause loss to another? Note that gain and loss concern only money and other property.

You

Yes, he took my money and gave me a dead parrot!

LawBot

That is a serious crime. I would like to ask you a few questions. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, just say so and I will explain. Are you ready?

You

What the hell? Okay.

LawBot

My bad, could you say that differently? If you are not sure about the answer, just say so. Are you ready? My bad, please say it again? If you are not sure about the answer, just say so. Are you ready?

You

YES

LawBot

Great. Did anyone take property belonging to you?

You

Yes, they took my money!

LawBot

That is a serious crime. I would like to ask you a few questions. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, just say so and I will explain. Are you ready?

You

What the hell have we been doing for the past five minutes?

LawBot

Sorry, I’m not sure I got that. Try again? If you are not sure about the answer, just say so. Are you ready?

You

Yes I am ready

LawBot

Great. Did anyone take property belonging to you?

You

Yes they took my money

LawBot

Ok. Almost there. Did this person use force on you or make you fear violence right before or while taking your property? Yes or no?

You

No

LawBot

I understand. Did the person take property in your building or part of it, without your prior permission to enter?

You

No

LawBot

So far it looks like a case of theft. Do you think the person intended to deprive you permanently of your property?

You

Yes

LawBot

Hm. Do you think that an ordinary, reasonable and honest person would consider the appropriation dishonest?

You

Yes, they sold me a dead parrot!

LawBot

My bad, could you say that differently? Do you think that an ordinary, reasonable and honest person would consider the appropriation dishonest?

You

Do you even care about parrots?

LawBot

Sorry, didn’t get that. Was there a typo? Do you think that an ordinary, reasonable and honest person would consider the appropriation dishonest?

You

YES

LawBot

Right. Do you think that the person who took your property realized that an ordinary, reasonable and honest person would consider their conduct dishonest?

You

YES

LawBot

Ok, Chester. I think that theft was committed here. Would you like me to help you find the closest police station?

You

I think your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries.

LawBot

Which city or town do you live in?

You

Disconnect

LawBot

Sorry, didn’t get that. Was there a typo? Which city or town do you live in?

Two takeaways from this experience.

  1. I don’t think lawyers have anything to worry about with Lawbot.
  2. If I get sued for defamation by a chatbot lawyer it’ll be the weirdest experience of my life.