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Anarchy on the Internet
If web hoaxes go unchecked, who can believe anything they see on the web?


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Thomas Sowell

The Internet provides vast amounts of information, but it can also spread vast amounts of misinformation, or even deliberately misleading disinformation.

For more than two weeks, scarcely a day has gone by without e-mails pouring in to me, asking about columns that someone has written and brazenly spread around the Internet with my name on them.

Most of these e-mails have come from regular readers who are savvy enough to recognize columns that have a different style and substance from my own columns.

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We usually think of “identity theft” as involving using someone else’s name for economic fraud. But identity theft can be used for political fraud as well — as in this case.

Creators Syndicate, the authorized distributor of my column, is investigating this situation, and it has been like trying to unravel a mystery in a detective story.

First of all, they discovered that there was a blogger on the Internet making unauthorized distributions of not only my column, but also of columns from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Universal Press Syndicate, and the Washington Post. But there was no way to contact that blogger directly.

Since the blogger who posted the recent phony column uses the facilities of Google, an e-mail was sent to Google, which brought a response from people identified only as “The Blogger Team,” who declared: “We strongly believe in freedom of expression, even if a blog contains unappealing or distasteful content or presents unpopular viewpoints.”

We are all against censorship but the right of free speech does not cover libel, threats, or identity theft.

Creators Syndicate’s attorney — Charles Adamek of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP in Los Angeles — pointed out in a formal reply that Google has itself created rules for people who set up blogs, and that not enforcing those rules means accepting “this blogger’s activity in misappropriating Dr. Sowell’s identity and passing off writings as if they were Dr. Sowell’s when they are not.”

That message brought another e-mail reply from the same anonymous Blogger Team, essentially repeating what had been said before: “We strongly believe in freedom of expression, even if a blog contains unappealing or distasteful content or presents unpopular viewpoints.”

Finally, this situation came to the attention of Editor & Publisher magazine, the leading trade publication of the newspaper industry.

On August 15, Dave Astor of Editor & Publisher posted an account of what had happened under the title, “Blogger’s ‘Impersonation’ of Columnist Leads to Creators-Google Tussle.”



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