Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Digg-ing a legal hole for itself

Today, I watched an incident unfold that was enough to convince me that Digg is a legal minefield waiting to happen.

In short, a ridiculous rumour was posted to a gaming website, subsequently dugg, and went ballistic, clocking up more than 800 diggs at the time of writing it, and being one-of-the-top ten stories of the day. The rumour said that Gamepro Australia had accepted a bribe to write a negative review of a game. It was based on a single post submitted at competing gaming site Gamespot.com.au.

I can’t imagine any professional journalist for a moment even entertaining the idea of accepting a bribe to write a negative review, nor could I for a moment accept that the world’s biggest gaming company would engage in such dodgy PR practices. The whole story was so obviously inaccurate, but apparently not so much, that hundreds of people promoted the story to near-the-top of Digg.

The GWN story is libellous and IDG Australia and the editors and journalists in question would have a very good case if they chose to sue.

I actually sent them a few questions, asking if they were prepared to stand by the story, if it was legally challenged and the story was finally shellacked on Digg and what do you know, within a couple of hours, the “allegation” was removed.

Update: We’re happy to report that the person who started the bribe rumor on the Gamespot forums has admitted it was a lie, so we’ve removed mention of the rumor from this story. Their rumor post has also now been removed at Gamespot, and mention of it on the Gas Powered Games forum has also gone,” says the post on GWN.

In most legal cases, you kind of have to show that damage was done to make it worth suing, which means you’d very seldom bother to sue a forum or blog, because they’re traffic is relatively small. But Digg is getting to the point where its traffic and influence is such, that its not going to be hard to prove that a post like this caused enomous commercial damage.

Were I a lawyer representing Gamepro, it would be very easy to demonstrate that these hundreds of people all believed the post enough to promote it. Comments posted to the site like: “The people at GamePro are the real assholes here, we all know EA has somewhat of a shady way of doing business so I’m not that surprised that they would attempt something like this. But GamePro how about a little journalistic integrity”

The story also propagated around other gaming sites, forums and blogs. Again, it wouldn’t be at all difficult to start doing some calculations, work out how many people saw the post because of Digg, start doing some simple legal calculations about damage done to brand and reputation, and come up with a very big number, as to

Whenever, I’ve been asked about this type of episode, I’ve always suggested that most social media is self-correcting – that is, an inaccurate story will eventually get ferreted out as inaccurate. However, that really doesn’t take into account the damage that gets along the way. The fact that so many people dugg the story, after a large number of people expressed doubts about its validity show that far from everyone bothers to read the comments, and an even smaller fraction of those people would bother to return to the comments or see the re-vised original piece.

I’m actually really disappointed in the Digg community that they let a story that was so flagrantly dubious reach the point it did. I would have expected that it would have quickly beaten down by the senior members of the community. And the large number of buries that the story got, didn’t really seem to do much to fix the problem either.

In fact, the post is still sitting there and it still has the libellous and inaccurate heading and text. It’s kind of ironic that while all the posts that it references have been removed or edited, the Digg post remains. It’s still sitting at number three in the top gaming posts of the last 24 hours with the headline: “GamePro Magazine caught in review score bribery scandal”.

In essence, Digg has been informed that the post is inaccurate (and I’m led to believe contacted directly as well) but the post hasn’t been removed. This is obviously the first action that any publisher would take and when you get down to it, Digg is a publisher, its just using its users rather than journalists to post stories. At some point, a site like Digg is going to be held to the same standards as a MSM outlet and, it remains to be seen, if it can put in place the moderating measures to avoid these types of problems.

Or perhaps, its just need to re-look at its algorithms and take into greater account the buries that a story receives. I’m not sure if this thing could have happened at reddit, because stories tend to get beaten down a lot more at that aggregator when compared to Digg.

I’m certainly no lawyer, but as an editor and journalist who has done all the basic media law training, it does seem to me, that at some point in time, Digg is going to run into a case like this, except it’s going to be about the wrong person or the wrong company, and somebody is going to decide to make a point.

Disclosure: Seven or so years ago I used to work for IDG Australia, the publisher of GamePro Australia and as the CEO of MediaConnect Australia I am a passionate support of the Australian tech media community.

Filed under: Content Aggregation, Digg.com

6 Responses

  1. CEastman says:

    Good to hear someone has some integrity… good post.

  2. Peter Black says:

    Interesting post – I have expanded on the legal issues on my blog – http://www.freedomtodiffer.com/freedom_to_differ/2007/03/digging_for_lia.html

  3. Dan says:

    I hadn’t considered the legal ramifications of Digg’s involvement. I had similar objections to the story and the way it was publicized, but for totally different reasons. I came at it from an editorial perspective. Click my name’s link if you’d like to read my thoughts.

  4. marc says:

    How is Digg liable? They’re just aggregating information. This guy lied. Digg didn’t. If I call your friend, or I call 800 people and tell them a lie about you, do you blame the phone company?

  5. Phil Sim says:

    If Digg were told of a defamatory post and do nothing about it, then they start to become liable.

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