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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Good Wife 5.9: Reddit, Crowd-Sourcing, and the First Amendment on Trial

The Good Wife has been having a fabulous year - not only because of Alicia leaving Lockhart Gardner now LG and all the emotional dynamite that set loose - but because of its fearless, irrelevant tackling of of major new new media aka social media issues.   The fictional mega search engine Chumhum is the center piece of most of this, but the egregiously nonfictitious NSA also figured in a major episode, and this past Sunday Reddit got its turn in the barrel.

Not Reddit by name, but the pejoratively named Scabbit is the bad guy in an important suit that LG and Florrick-Agos are locking horns over in court.   In our reality, Reddit is the self-proclaimed "front page of the Internet," which it to some extent is.  It works in the same way the almost late, lamented Digg used to work:  users can posts links to anything on the web, in appropriate categories (subreddits).   Other uses can then vote the links up or down, and comment on them.  The links with the greatest number of votes make the front pages - the master front page of Reddit, and the front pages of  the subreddits.

Also in our reality, Reddit came in for its fair share of criticism earlier this year with its well-meaning attempt to identify the Boston bombers.   Pictures were posted on Reddit, and readers were encouraged to identify the presumed bomber.  Unfortunately, this crowd-sourcing produced a wrong ID, showing that democracy has its limits in the apprehension of criminals.

On Sunday night, a Florrick-Agos client is the victim of a similar problem.  He's wrongly accused of a bombing at a food festival, and his pictures continue to be posted on Scabbit even after he's legally cleared.  As these postings begin to ruin his life, Lockhart and Gardner defend Scabbit against Florrick and Agos's attempt to get the court to insist that Scabbit not allow any more of these damaging postings on its site.   Scabbit's reply is that they'll take down any postings after they occur, but committing not to allow any postings beforehand would constitute "prior restraint," or a violation of the First Amendment.

It's valuable to see this issue treated on television.  I'm an absolutist regarding the First Amendment when it comes to the government getting in the way of any speech or publication or peaceable demonstration - meaning, I think FCC fines for "objectionable" broadcasting and NYC Mayor Bloomberg's interference with the press during Occupy Wall Street are equally unconstitutional - but the First Amendment should protect neither traditional nor social media from libel and slander suits, when they act irresponsibly in publishing defamatory information.   Crowd-sourcing, in other words, has its limits, and we need to work a little harder to decide what they are and promote them.

See also The Good Wife 5.1: Capital Punishment and Politicians' Daughters ... The Good Wife 5.5: The Villain in this Story


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