Frederick W. Gundlach as a Google

Today’s topic picks up on the topic of privacy and the internet, which I was discussing off-blog with a sometime commenter here who frequents Arudou Debito’s debito.org.

I mentioned as an update to one of my earlier posts about site traffic that my blog has become more popular in the Japanese expat community in recent times. In fact, enough so that I now rank in Alexa stats for Japan, most recently at #44,014. See?

(Click once, and then again, for best view.)

Now, how much traffic is that? Well, I think it’s about the same 70 Japan-side viewers as it’s been this season. But I think the mix of people who are happy (eager, I hope) to come back and check the site out on a regular basis is growing. So this would not be the every day hits, but people who will scan the list of the 15 [topics] I wrote about (to your right), and maybe hit a few.

Also, on the issues of the Japanese pension system, kokumin nenkin, kousei nenkin, ethics in the accounting profession, the ins-and-outs of U.S. expats filing U.S. taxes in America and the like, I get numerous search engine hits. Mary Travers as an inspiration for Janice the Muppet has also been popular.

My monthly unique hit readership is about 1,000 in Japan. That’s actually a lot of people if they are stopping here to read on an issue.

I know from the occasional nice note that I get in e-mail, that a number of people appreciate my work, and I thank you all for that who do. It is a bit of a labor of love, and plus, I have a work ethic that needs exercising in a feast-or-famine Japan career! Some friends tell me I should make the pension-and-tax advice into a business. I’m not sure how to transition a Frederick W. Gundlach as a Japan online practical-advice columnist and blogger project into something that is remunerative. This is one of the overall problems with the internet, though, isn’t it?

More so, some people visit for the very practical financial planning topics that I’ve discussed, but others visit for the social and maybe even the political commentary. So these are the customers, and they have different needs. And then, I sometimes like to write about something that really only interests me!

By the way: here let me mention that the tax topics and legal issues that I discuss are in no way meant to be taken as tax and/or legal advice. We do not have a provider and client relationship if you simply visit my site and read. So please keep that in mind.

Now back to the main topic, which was privacy and the internet.

At debito.org recently, there have been two posts that generated a bit of heat for discussing those who have “been a presence” on the internet. For example, spousal child-abduction victim Christopher Savoie. via his second wife, Amy Savoie, was in the Japan Times recently and Debito blogged about it. At some point in the thread, Christopher Savoie jumped into the comments because he didn’t like the direction of the commentary. At some point, he raised the question of slander and got the response by a commenter which is that immediate link above.

If Mr. Savoie puts himself out in traditional or regular media, is he a “public figure”?

If Mr. Savoie uses the internet to advocate for his children to be taken from the first Mrs. Savoie (Noriko Savoie) and repatriated to Tennessee per Tennessee state law, is he a public figure?

If people write about one story, or even the Savoie v. Savoie divorce case on the internet, is Christopher Savoie a public figure?

With the thing here, concerning the degree of slander and whether it is actionable?

Second example:

Debito Arudou has used the internet to advocate for expat civil rights and equal protection in Japan for several years now. Some attach the moniker “controversial” to this, but I would tend to disagree. He is simply standing up for what is supposedly the rule of law. So, he is just an Everyday Joe (or an Everyday Taro.)

However, his advocacy, be it on the internet or actually going around Japan giving talks in various fora, attracts the attention of people who then want to say something negative about him.

Let’s take a look at his Alexa stats for Japan:

Debito was recently ranked at just over #20,000 in Japan. When I did this post, here, he was #20569; and my estimate was that he was getting somewhere in the 300’s or 400’s for unique readers a day in Japan.

Now, does this make Debito a public figure?

I dunno. To me, I would say “no”. His modest advocacy has attracted a number of people who make themselves seem really strange, by setting up websites dedicated to personally knocking him. The latest of these is one called tepido.org, which I, as a matter of principle, don’t make a habit of linking to. Debito points out that a Mr. Mike Guest has been going at him as well, and made a special blog post just to return a zing–that Mike Guest seems to misrepresent his academic credentials.

Now, why is it important for the tepido guy or Mike Guest to make such an effort to say bad things about Arudou Debito? Who knows? Is Debito really a “public figure” as we traditionally understand it? I would say, no. No offense to Debito, but he may be premier among the daily Japan expat internet bloggers–that is for sure—but he’s not really in that category of public figure where making any comment about the person is a form of protected speech. (Yes, slander is still slander in common law. The question is whether you have a defense to slander. Call it libel if you will, but the net is as “spoken” as it is written, even though it’s all typed.) So the posters in that earlier thread were getting it wrong. The real question is whether you have a justification for the statements being made? Yes, truth is a defense, but it just may be moving you to the tort of publicizing someone’s private life (“intrusion upon seclusion“). You see, at root, the injury is still there.

I happen to think this is the Google and Facebook tort issue of the 2010’s. If you set up a means for someone to publicize or comment on some non-public figure’s private life, are you a party to the tort of intrusion upon seclusion? I don’t think the Congressional act that absolves ISPs from liability really went deeply into this isue.

This is why I think that people who set up a website, where a major purpose is simply to attack another private individual, are really just asking for it. But as I’ve said, “you can’t fix the internet.” So if someone decides to get on and say bad things about you—and I’ve had that happen, maybe once a year since 2003—there isn’t a lot you can do to stop it.

Now, today, I actually had someone Google my name. This is becoming more common, and I am not sure if it’s tied to the employment context. But it is something that is still very rare, but becoming more frequent.

As I, myself, have become the more frequent recipient of hit pieces, do I try to “fix” the internet? Do I observe the sites where the slander occurred, and wait? Do I try to find out who did it, prepare papers, and wait? What. What.

If I use the internet to talk to you, am I a “public figure”? If I use a pen name which is practically, but by no means entirely, anonymous, am I a “public figure”?

If I talk to you, using the internet, do I lose my expectations of privacy?

You see, at some point, it becomes not so much a question of who has made themselves a public figure, as where your free expression rights are made to end. And on this latter, we Americans generally associate it with totalitarians, freedom destroyers, and just-in-general bad people.

The internet is a tool for free expression. It connects people who have a common interest. It allows for the free exchange of ideas, just like newspapers and books. But it’s so vast and anonymous, and fleeting, that in many ways it’s like a telephone call. Even as text.

When someone Googles your name, what is the result? What do they see? Can you control it? Can you control it in the future? Is it fair information about you, or someone’s made up story? Do you have to stop using the internet if there is a possibility you will be Googled? Can you stand up for freedom, if you might be Googled? Can you be reported about in a newspaper, for any reason, if you might be Googled? Can you ask the help of a judge, if you might be Googled?

If someone Googles Frederick W. Gundlach, what does that mean?

15 Replies to “Frederick W. Gundlach as a Google”

  1. Hi Hoofin,

    Interesting post. On the other hand, does having a Wikipedia entry make you a public figure? Your guess of about 400 daily uniques for Debito.org may be in the general area, I would guess, judging by the click-throughs I’ve recently got.

    As for intruding on someone’s private life or slandering, I cannot stop my commenters commenting and LB is responsible for his own articles but I would like to think that I am only criticising him based on what he writes on his blog; I felt his comment on my photo (BTW I wasn’t offended, just 🙄 ) was worse than anything I’ve written.

    There is his Canada connection which could have been intruding on privacy (if just reading his blog can be defined as an invasion of privacy), but as I posted on Tepido, I didn’t want to see any speculation on a name.

    I thought the Mike Guest thing, however, was totally overblown by Mr Arudou – it was satire/parody/whatever you want to call it thus any reasonable person would know that it is not actually direct quotes from Mr Arudou, which appeared to be his main beef.

    Oh, and Eric Schmidt of Google says you should get a free name change when you grow up just to stop people Googling you!

    1. Ken,

      My main point is that if you want to take topics raised by Arudou Debito and discuss them, that’s one thing. But a lot the site is just shots. What happens is that people quickly figure out what’s going on, and they just won’t come back. Then, you’re just stuck with a site that taking shots at A.D., and done in a way that makes it look like you are trying to skim off his web traffic.

      If you’ve got things to say about whatever Debito is saying, you should just say them without the shots and the zings. I think the Teabaggers back in America were saying about “man up”. So you should just man up and make your points.

      1. Ken says:

        I thought the Mike Guest thing, however, was totally overblown by Mr Arudou – it was satire/parody/whatever you want to call it thus any reasonable person would know that it is not actually direct quotes from Mr Arudou, which appeared to be his main beef.

        I also have to be completely frank, that I blew through (scrolled through) most of the criticism by Mike Guest. I actually thought the name Mike Guest was an anonymous one, originally. The gist of what he had to say seemed to be a personal knock, although it was of the kind that others would say is lighthearted. It is that zone where the mean sentiments are clear, but it’s delivered in a style like it’s all good natured. S*** wrapped in sugar, basically.

      2. I disagree completely, hoofin. If you read the site carefully you will see that none of the points made are attacking the man personally. If tepido.org was posting stuff like “lol debito is fat and he has stupid facial hair, why do people read his blog lol” then yes, it would be silly and juvenile. But it’s not.

        All of the articles that LB and Ken post there are debunking Debito’s own pronouncements. He says this, he asserts that, he is absolutely positively certain that whatever, and tepido.org goes back over what he said, compares it both to reality and to what debito himself said in contradiction earlier, and posts that.

        Of course, there is no reason why they should do this in a dry academic tone. This is the internet, after all. And debito’s rantings bring most of us to the verge of tears of frustration (that people actually believe Japan is some totalitarian, yellow-gaijin-star-pinning hellhole) so I think the odd “Can you believe this guy?!” is perfectly justified.

        1. Simon says:

          I disagree completely, hoofin. If you read the site carefully you will see that none of the points made are attacking the man personally. If tepido.org was posting stuff like “lol debito is fat and he has stupid facial hair, why do people read his blog lol” then yes, it would be silly and juvenile. But it’s not.

          I think the day I visited it, there was some post about how a Yahoo search on “Arudou Debito” would return a recommendation like “do you mean to search for ‘Arudou Debito is [some bad thing] ?'” That one was clear that it was just a shot. So I said, oh no no, not wasting time on this one.

          All of the articles that LB and Ken post there are debunking Debito’s own pronouncements. He says this, he asserts that, he is absolutely positively certain that whatever, and tepido.org goes back over what he said, compares it both to reality and to what [D]ebito himself said in contradiction earlier, and posts that.

          Well, maybe OK and maybe not. I tend to wonder what good a site is that is not putting forth new or different views and content, but only goes to finding contradictions in what others have said. Debito, who I’ve known as an acquaintance for a couple years now, is pretty straightforward on message. He is a trustworthy guy with a lot of good friends around town, and around Japan. We all have foibles. Do you really think it’s worth a website?

          Of course, there is no reason why they should do this in a dry academic tone. This is the internet, after all. And debito’s rantings bring most of us to the verge of tears of frustration (that people actually believe Japan is some totalitarian, yellow-gaijin-star-pinning hellhole) so I think the odd “Can you believe this guy?!” is perfectly justified.

          Simon, it’s just that I don’t think Debito ever says, “Japan is some totalitarian, yellow, gaijin [i.e. foreigner for my overseas readers]-star-pinnning hellhole.” I think he’s raising important equal protection issues that Japan never addresses. Anyone living in Japan for some moderate amount of time has seen this is in one way or another.

          I don’t think “can you believe this guy?” is perfectly justified, either. If it were perfect anything, it sounds like perfect excuse making. I think people are all entitled to their opinions. It’s just, to me, it seems that an awful lot of effort is being put into the other site trying to “debunk” the opinions they read on debito.org.

  2. The individual examples, besides yourself, that you mention are not mere Internet memes trying to get four digits of page views per month for vanity’s sake or a hobby.

    These are people who have volunteered to appear repeatedly in the mainstream media (major television and newspapers and radio) and have used their generated publicity as capital to represent themselves as a leader of one or more special interest groups to gain access to politicians and legislators and change public policy. They’ve also (honestly) taken other people’s money to advance their causes. They’ve communicated directly with politicians. There’s nothing wrong or bad or illegal with any of this, of course. It’s their right. But when you’re using your publicity to try to change the laws or claim that you represent and speak for a much larger group, the public should have the right to speak about you.

    This is quite a different thing from simply penname writing a blog or being outed or having your privacy violated on a message board. I don’t know of any particular instance where the courts have judged the act of writing a blog or participating in social media defined you as a public figure. I could be wrong, as I’m not a lawyer. From a strictly personal point of view, I certainly don’t consider posting comments to be the defining characteristic of a “public figure.”

    While everybody is entitled to freedom of speech in the U.S. and Japan, there are of course limits, as defined by each countries’ libel/slander laws and the courts. Of course, when you are a public figure, the bar is raised when it comes to judgment. And when it comes to the judgment of what is and what isn’t a public figure, this is also ultimately decided by the courts.

  3. And in case I wasn’t clear enough, I personally don’t consider you to be a public figure. Nor do I consider merely participating in social media to be either. Not that my opinion alone on this matters. I do disagree with you your assessment (not a public figure) of Debito, however, based on my personal criteria I wrote in the previous comment.

    Disclaimer: I personally know Debito and spent time with him on more than one occasion. I like him as a person (especially in the non-cyber world) And I have given money to his organization(s) and helped him in other ways. That doesn’t mean I always agree with him. He knows this and I’ve made this publicly known. However, I do agree with some of the things he does, which is why I occasionally give him my support.

    1. Eido, I agree in general with what you’re saying above. I happen to think you made a great point with Christopher Savoie on the debito thread. Chris Savoie’s been out there, putting the issue of spousal child abduction in the news. He got Congressman Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, who I know through someone else, involved in the matter and it went to a 416-1 vote in the House. He’s been on CNN, too. Yet when somebody’s got an opinion or a view that differs from his on a BBS, oh no! I didn’t want to get on that thread–because I think he has a bit of young lawyer-itis, even as a middle aged student. I am not sure that he understood that, at the end of the day, truth is a defense to slander, and a person’s opinion is, well, an opinion. He’s wrapped up in the emotional side of his family’s situation, too. Everyone gets that way.

  4. Hoofin,

    You raise an interesting argument using daily [G]oogle hits as your own personal measure of notability in the public eye in order to make the case that Debito Arudou (whose blog activities you support) is arguably not a public figure, and therefore protected by privacy laws. It’s different, I admit, but after giving it some thought not a very compelling case because you don’t demonstrate how this would favor Debito Arudou in the end.

    As Ken rightly asked in the previous post, “does having a Wikipedia entry make you a public figure?” You neglected to answer.

    I would add to the question: Is (not should) is a person legally considered a public figure if multiple sources in books, newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, and television programs feature that person and his/her activities/thoughts/developments over time? What about public appearances for speaking engagements? Then there’s the issue of what is an “involuntary public figure” that still protects writers from libel in discussing subjects who want to maintain their privacy, like some actors and actresses, but who are still constantly in the public eye beyond their control.

    These issues are pretty complicated, no?

    To be honest, I would have been interested to read a real rebuttal to Eido Inoue’s comments about the nature of a public figure. They seem to be largely in line with what I always understood the US/European/Japanese law protected: freedom of speech apart from cases of “malicious intent” where someone is clearly lying which, as you probably know, is sometimes very difficult to prove. Asserting that Tepido.org engages in “shots and zings” also raises the question of whether Debito.org has ever anywhere engaged in the same and whose responsibility that ultimately is. Maybe we could both agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder in this case?

    One last thought: Would you *really* want to make your measure of a public figure (daily [G]oogle hits) the standard for defamation and invasion of privacy? I suspect it would quickly become a double-edged sword for people like Mr. Arudou who, for example, has written extensively online and in his first two books about Tony Laszlo in a, shall we say, highly unflattering and critical way. Tony Laszlo, by your definition, does not have an active online presence. Would Mr. Arudou then be guilty of invasion of privacy or perhaps even libel? It’s something to think about.

    Sorry to take up so much space.

  5. Greg,

    You say a lot of things that I’d like to go in depth about, but I think I’m going to have to simply touch on, so forgive me:

    You say:

    [Hoofin] raise[s] an interesting argument using daily [G]oogle hits as your own personal measure of notability in the public eye in order to make the case that Debito Arudou (whose blog activities you support) is arguably not a public figure, and therefore protected by privacy laws. It’s different, I admit, but after giving it some thought not a very compelling case because you don’t demonstrate how this would favor Debito Arudou in the end.

    What I said is, having a website that gets 400 uniques a day is not really strong evidence that Debito is the kind of public figure for which we generally grant a wide latitude in how others can acceptably characterize him or her.

    As Ken rightly asked in the previous post, “does having a Wikipedia entry make you a public figure?” You neglected to answer.

    I read it as a rhetorical question in light of the whole argument Ken was making. To give you a definitive answer: no.

    I would add to the question: Is (not should) is a person legally considered a public figure if multiple sources in books, newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, and television programs feature that person and his/her activities/thoughts/developments over time? What about public appearances for speaking engagements? Then there’s the issue of what is an “involuntary public figure” that still protects writers from libel in discussing subjects who want to maintain their privacy, like some actors and actresses, but who are still constantly in the public eye beyond their control.

    I don’t think it makes the person a public figure, but it does make it more likely that others will express an opinion on the topics that the person speaks about, and also would prompt people to question the motives of the person doing the advocacy—with the quick addition that most times the motives are benign or at best have a small business, professional, or academic motive.

    These issues are pretty complicated, no?

    Yes.

    To be honest, I would have been interested to read a real rebuttal to Eido Inoue’s comments about the nature of a public figure. They seem to be largely in line with what I always understood the US/European/Japanese law protected: freedom of speech apart from cases of “malicious intent” where someone is clearly lying which, as you probably know, is sometimes very difficult to prove.

    That’s not what I felt like writing about.

    Asserting that Tepido.org engages in “shots and zings” also raises the question of whether Debito.org has ever anywhere engaged in the same and whose responsibility that ultimately is. Maybe we could both agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder in this case?

    I think the main difference is that with Debito the shots and zings are rather rare, and longtime readers of his kind-of know the story as to who and why. With the tepido site, the main purpose is to make potshots and zings at Arudou Debito and even those who participate on the board. There is no content other than what is going on at debito.org, and the design of the site strongly indicates that. If Ken were putting up original content that wasn’t almost exclusively based on what was going on at debito.org, then I would visit. There is a lot of internet to read, you know.

    One last thought: Would you *really* want to make your measure of a public figure (daily [G]oogle hits) the standard for defamation and invasion of privacy?

    No, that is my whole point. I am saying that even moderate use of the internet, which itself is so vast, should not mean that someone loses privacy rights or makes themselves open to relentless targeting by others who seem to have an issue. The occasional zap or zing on a website is one thing. I think Heat Miser and Snow Miser sent a bolt or a snowball across every now and again, but in the end, they kept to their turf.

    I suspect it would quickly become a double-edged sword for people like Mr. Arudou who, for example, has written extensively online and in his first two books about Tony Laszlo in a, shall we say, highly unflattering and critical way.

    Yes, I know there is some situation there, going back to something that went down some years ago.

    Tony Laszlo, by your definition, does not have an active online presence. Would Mr. Arudou then be guilty of invasion of privacy or perhaps even libel? It’s something to think about.

    Well, yes, there is a lot to think about. That was the whole point of my post. But here you veered off a bit. Debito does not run a website whose purpose is to routinely attack Tony Laszlo. (By the way, he’s the “My Darling is a Foreign Guy” guy, right?) There’s just some bad blood there that goes back a ways. I am not familiar with the details, and I only have so much life, you know, even as a healthy middle-aged guy. So I’m not about to get up to speed on it. I want to go back to the point about what the implications of internet communication are, and I leave the answers to readers.

    Sorry to take up so much space.

    You made some interesting points.

  6. http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/p117.htm

    Debito keeps insisting he has “thrust themselves [i.e. himself] to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved” and as such, would consider himself to be a “limited public figure.” At least as far as US case law would be concerned. A Japanese citizen in Japan under Japanese law might have different standards applied, of course.

    Debito also seems to insist that he has to stand up against all of this oppression going on around in Japan and claims he is doing it for the good of all. However, he leaves very little room for debate and opposing viewpoints, in spite of what he claims. You yourself have been victimised by his revisionist edits for things that you perhaps felt were not entirely justified. Were they spam? Were they flame baits? No one beyond Debito’s whim will ever be able to judge.

    He claims to “shine a light in the dark places.” But what about the dark places of his moderation? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Tepido, while at one point sniping unfairly about Debito’s grammar in various posts, appears to be trying to take him to task for some of his own unfairness and oversensitive and overcritical view of some issues as well as his heavy handed moderation techniques that serve only to belittle detractors and stifle real conversations that need to be had on important issues.

    Seriously, why does a so-called activists for human rights need to have a whinge about Tony Lazlo every 3rd month or so when they aren’t even running in the same circles anymore? Who does that help?

    1. Chuckers says:

      You yourself have been victimised by his revisionist edits for things that you perhaps felt were not entirely justified. Were they spam? Were they flame baits? No one beyond Debito’s whim will ever be able to judge.

      On rare occasion, something doesn’t post at his site. I think the Akismet filter might grab it, and on others it’s a question of whether Debito thinks it has merit for his site. I forget the details exactly, but the other day, (November 13), Ken Joseph had said he should never have renounced the American citizenship, and maybe basically try to give up his Japanese one and get the American back. Basically, meaning separate himself from Japan. I said, “how ironic. On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence.” The comment didn’t make it, because not everyone may have seen the TV series the Odd Couple, from the early 1970’s. Sure, OK.

      I only remember one that really got to me, and I think I did a small post about it. But it had to do with some other poster’s false accusation about what I was saying regarding who made the American music scene the creative hit that it was in the second-half of the 20th century. My point was that not enough credit is given to the black community for this. Another poster twisted that, and my comment disappeared.

      But that sounds to me like mistake and editorial discretion. So I cut back on commenting.

      Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      Who watches those who watch? Seriously, now. There are so many petty corrupt things going on in the world, and more. Lehman blew up because no one was watching the auditors or the lawyers. People are getting foreclosed on in America, because no one bothered to follow 300 years worth of common law and state statutes about registering title, never mind having proper guidelines for lending money. And I’m supposed to get worked up about Debito’s comment board?

      Tepido, while at one point sniping unfairly about Debito’s grammar in various posts, appears to be trying to take him to task for some of his own unfairness and oversensitive and overcritical view of some issues[,] as well as his heavy handed moderation techniques that serve only to belittle detractors and stifle real conversations that need to be had on important issues.

      Yeah, well, I just go back to this idea that someone actually set up a site dedicated to that. That still gets me.

      By the way, I let most all my commenters through, because they overwhelmingly make the effort. But if someone were saying something that I just don’t feel like publicizing, they have to, yes, go set up their own blog. Expletives and stuff as comments (not you of course), I don’t let through.

      I had these sort of spats with people in the early-to-mid 2000’s, who didn’t want me to blog about issues in my locality. Someone, a retiree, actually kept it up from 2003 to late 2006 or early ’07. I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t. So my point goes to how you have to wonder about people who make a project about someone else’s website.

      Seriously, why does a so-called activists for human rights need to have a whinge about Tony La[s]zlo every 3rd month or so when they aren’t even running in the same circles anymore? Who does that help?

      Yes, I just don’t know what to say on that. It’s kind of quirky as content for a site that is a personal blog, but does not hold itself out to be a personal blog. (This is the “Foreigner is a Darling” guy?) I usually just scroll down or around if the topic comes up. But I still think that’s rarer than the tepidoistas seem to make it.

      My post was actually about internet privacy, you know, and not so much the petty bickering of others.

  7. WRT Google..

    In the US, there is a service that purports to maintain and improve one’s net image, primarily on Google, but also on social networking sites. (I have no desire to steer business to that firm, as the product seems rather like the “Life Lock” scam, so I won’t name it here.)

    You can artificially get higher ranking for web pages containing your name that you want people to see – this is easily done manually and there are probably helpful scripts written by Google hackers floating around the net as well. (There are books on Google hacking FWIW.)

    Being a published author with an unusual name, and having been cited in some technical publications, I am fortunate that those things are generally highest in my Google results.

    As for the legal ramifications, IANAL. As for Debito, I don’t pay much attention to him, as his site is a PITA to read on my phone. YMMV, HTH, HAND.

    1. Yeah, I’d hate to think we live in a world now where you have to pay someone to get you the best SEO, in case anyone Googles you.

  8. Thanks for bringing up this topic on defamation on the internet in Japan. It is particularly fun and timely for me since by coincidence we were studying defamation damages in remedies class just this week. I found this blog because I often read Debito (but not the comments, save for when my wife writes an article) This was fascinating as a legal topic for me given [a person]’s untrue statements and the interesting issues related to defamtion law in TN and Japan and how different they are.

    As a completely unrelated yet noteworthy aside but as a plug for my little country law school in Nashville: This judge is my remedies Professor:
    http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-18/us/tennessee.mosque_1_islamic-center-water-supply-tennessee-open-meetings-law?_s=PM:US
    Judge Corlew has been at the center of some other very interesting 1st amendment issues to say the least.

    At any rate, one point that should be clarified for the uninitiated is that the fact that a target of defamatory statements is a public figure is not an absolute defense in most common law jurisdictions. In TN, for instance my understanding is that all this does is create the extra burden of proving that the speach was intentional or conveyed with reckless disregard for the truth. It also shifts the Plaintiff’s burden to clear and convincing as to the elements of whether the person made the statement etc., which is not really problematic if the speaker is self identified in writing. The courts are not 100% consistent about who is a public figure either. If one is the victim of a felony crime and the story is covered on TV though, as in my case, this is not usually construed as becoming a “voluntary” public figure as is the case with a politician or a movie star. The coverage is incident to being the victim of a crime and there is no monetary gain from the publicity in such a case that would counterbalance and or justify the public’s interest in free speech to the point that defamation is a tolerable side effect. The damages element is interesting because this is actually easier to calculate for a public figure. The bottom line is that public figures can still successfully sue for defamation and being named a public figure because they are “on one’s TV” is not a slam dunk legal strategy. My non legal common sense advice with the caveat that I am not a lawyer? If you are thinking about denegrating someone on a comment board for the fun of it and you are unsure of your facts, just don’t.

    In Japan, for the defamatory speaker the situation is dire even on the internet. The public figure category is much more narrowly construed and the penalties are more often criminal than civil. Worse yet, in most cases truth is not even a defense in Japan! I would encourage [that person] and others who find it amusing to denegrate people with false statements on the internet and who live in Japan to read 78 Colo. L. Rev. 767, 768 (2007). I believe the prosecutors had brought over 300 cases of internet forum defamation in Japan and this was on an upward trend when the article was written.

    You bring up some interesting additional legal questions, Hoofin, about vicarious liability for providers and such that I think are better tested in court than on a blog.

    [Hoofin’s note: This part is one of my rare redactions of what someone has sent in. The deleted part basically goes to some notice that Chris–if it is actually Chris, although I’m pretty confident about that–is giving to someone who posted, on Debito.org, something that Chris says is not appropriate. And he wants an apology, or he says he will take the matter further. So what I am doing, is personally relaying the message to that person, because I don’t want the other person to get upset by saying that I let someone else say something about what they had said, that they said somewhere else, put them in a negative light on my site. Plus, I have some FCN treaty concerns about whether the matter could be handled as Chris says it could.

    So Chris’ comment then picks up: ]

    From personal experience, Japan is not a fun place to play with the criminal law system! 😉 And as for civil actions, thankfully one of the Hague conventions Japan DID sign is the service of process convention and U.S. compensatory judgments are easily enforceable in Japan if they do not have punitive damages components. And TN has a fantastic long arm statute that is applicable to defamation so this is not a fun pace to hang out as a named defendant in a civil case either. Rock on!

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