I floated around a proposal a long time ago that frivolous legal threats should be met with swift temporary bans and memory-holing in order to mitigate any chilling effect. Debating the issue takes a long time and the damage to discourse is done by the time the community reaches any consensus on what to do with a particular legal threat. While I still believe that this should be policy, I don't see much to discuss here. The threats are over so that particular problem is gone. —WL

  • William's solution as far as immediate, temporary bans and memory-holing seems very sensible. I'd like to see an attempt to create consensus to adopt this as a regular strategy, or further discussion if anyone takes issue with it. —SM
    • By memory-holing, are we talking about removing edits and edit histories? —JT
      • Yes. —wl
        • So censorship? —JT
          • Not really censorship, the response comes from the actions, not the data communicated. The info being conveyed is fine, the means in which it isn't It's not what you say it's how you say it... —daubert
          • Just as much as it is censorship to have a person arrested for making threats of physical violence against you. Yeah, you're suppressing speech and removing the person from the situation. But if they're making threats, I no longer care. It's unacceptable and harmful. —wl
          • We do memory hole certain things, Jeff. Child porn, personal information (somebody was posting somebody's SSN awhile back), etc. It's very rare and hasn't happened in awhile. When I do it, I note it in Wiki Community to stay as open as possible. On the other hand, it's (under very rare and extreme circumstances) needed. -jw
            • Yes, when you put it that way, I do think it has a place (definitly with child porn), but I personally feel like its not appropriate here. In most cases, lawsuits are a perfectly legal means of resolving disputes, and while I'm don't want to totally encourage legal threats all day long, I don't see the need to censor that. Keep it out in the open. I think SD's primer idea is a better alternative. —JT
              • I have absolutely no problem with "censoring" the vast majority of legal threats made on the wiki. The wiki is not the appropriate medium for threats, and legal threats are primarily used here to scare other people into self-suppressing their speech. Therefore, I do not see an issue with suppressing the words of a single individual or company that seeks to suppress the free speech of many. Threats undermine the wiki's values, scare off new and maybe even some old contributors, and are therefore an extreme enough type of behavior to warrant memory holing. -SM
                • I guess what's funny to me is we are protecting some peoples speech by censoring other peoples speech. —JT
                  • Coercive speech, such as blackmail or sexual harassment, should not be protected forms of speech, as I'm sure you'd agree. Although legal threats might not be illegal, it doesn't change the fact (as far as I know) that all legal threats that have been made on the wiki have turned out to be coercive words designed to provoke fear, with all of them turning out to be empty threats that led to no actual lawsuits. I see no ethical responsibility to protect such coercive speech, and I fail to see any hypocrisy - SM
              • Legal threats have no place on the wiki. Especially when they are invariably baseless. Ask Tom if you don't believe me. There is NEVER anything to them and they kill participation. In order to keep them from having chilling effects on editorial discussions, they should be removed and the people responsible need to be informed in the strongest way we can that their actions are unacceptable. Temp ban + memory hole accomplishes this. —wl
                • I actually kinda remember Tom being upset at someone for calling him a child molestor and believe Tom threatened him with legal action at some point. Looking back just now though, I think this was actually memory-holed. Is that what you're talking about? Would have been a useful citation for me! —JT
                  • I'm not alluding to that. I'm alluding to various threats people have made against the wiki and editors over the years. Tom's situation is completely different, but that's his story to tell if he wishes. —wl

[Indentation reboot]

  • I guess it become more complicated when it comes to who decides what to MH. In Tom's case, to me it seemed like a legit time to say, "I'm really upset, and I'm willing to take you to court," (although, the receiving end I'm sure would disagree). Who would make the decisions on this?
    • You're confused, Jeff. Although Tom was the one maliciously attacked, it was actually the other guy who was threatening to sue Tom. Actually, Tom even wrote up a long piece explaining why we other editors shouldn't be worried even though calls and legal threats were being made to his former employer. In any case, I think Tom'a situation actually strengthens the point of why we should have zero-tolerance for legal threats. -SM
      • The removals actually leave it unclear. I think a lot of arguments were made here though, and I DO see both sides. I understand the damage that can come with legal threats. Memory-holing just feels dishonest. Transparency would be the harder option, but I think it would make the wiki stronger. Either way, these are just my feelings. —JT
        • Perhaps you have not noticed the sudden quiet that often descends after someone makes a legal threat. Leaving them up there, failing to address them swiftly and surely, does not make the wiki stronger. —cp
          • What I'm advocating is SD's primer approach. Have a page describing what is legal, what is not legal, what merits legal action and what does not, etc. I think keeping information out in the open is the best, most honest way to do it. —JT
            • We can't write that page without hiring a lawyer. And given the effect that WTTW/BO has when someone has worked themselves up into a lather, I expect that a legal page would have the same (i.e., negligible) effect. What we need is an agreed upon policy to take swift action without having to go through deliberation each time. MH + temp ban seems like a good, swift action that gets the message across, "This is not acceptable in our community". —cp
              • Ok, who would make the decision? —JT
                • Well, only an administrator can do the memory holing and the banning. Presumably, these would be the default actions unless people spoke up to say otherwise. —cp
                • Who was banned? There's only one person in Davis, and that was by the request of a close family member due to medical issues. Also, there's a lot of claims that stuff has been memory holed that wasn't. It's been used once every couple of years, and only in powerful, extreme circumstances (disclaimer: I'm talking about Davis Wiki, not Wiki Spot as a whole). There seems to be quite a bit of belief there's more going on than there is in reality. For what it's worth, I usually treat legal threats (the ones that are more than a figure of speech) as a sign that there's a need for a temporary cool-off ban on all sides. This last one was a threat to me, and I'm wasn't worried, so I didn't cool-off ban anybody. If I should always do it for the community's sake, even if I'm the target, I will in the future. I would like feedback, if that's the case. I do get quite a few legal threats thrown my way, pretty much none of which are actually reasonable. -jw

We need a primer for people who really don't understand what is going on with the wiki, I give my long winded explanation about once every 2-3 months on the latest person to blow into the wiki all concerned about something they have a monetary interest in and NOTHING else. Literally nothing else. Some jaded business owner, or some friend of an owner will show up and trample all over everything in a blind rage related to protecting their fiefdom. Perhaps people who make legal threats could receive not a perm ban, but a LTB (legal threats ban) which basically redirects them to a page with info on the subject and then makes them acknowledge some info, or a bunch of cases showing safe harbor precedent etc etc. This is once again much ado about nothing that is detracting from making meaningful edits on the wiki.

  • We can write all the documentation in the world and I doubt it will do any good. They don't want to read anything. They just want their changes made and they know they're right. —wl

en Is this page for discussing or documenting legal threats...both? -MikeyCrews

So far its just been a discussion about how to deal with legal threats made on DW. —JT

I think a page that documents whenever a person or organization threatens legal action against or via the wiki would be useful to the community. I'm not going to make the page or contribute to it out of fear of offending people who have already already shown to be willing to use bogus legal threats to impose their will. That sort of crap is the last thing I want to deal with. — MC

I imagine that when a business owner starts a page here they assume that they will have a certain amount of autonomy over the factual business information and any graphics that represents the company, that local clients will leave comments based on good faith, that active members are part of the community, that the editors are unbiased, transparent and local and that if they decide to not have their business be part of the wiki, that they could remove the page. It should be stated before someone starts any page that this is not how it is. Also, I would think any legal questions should be addressed openly and thoroughly and not by banning people. If the wiki is completely covered by safe harbor or even if it's not why suppress discussion about it? -jimi

Jimi, did you ever read the page ["Welcome to the Wiki/Business Owner']? People attempted to direct you towards that many times. The very first point on that page is Business pages belong to the Davis community, not to the business

-Yes, I did read it. You miss my point. My point is that the general public is unaware of the scope of that phrase and the dire consequences of it.

  • It's the first paragraph of the Front Page, as well. -jw

-Again, you miss my point. The blanket phrase, "Business pages belong to the Davis community, not to the business," does not address the fact that once you create a business page, the biased admins and editor's presumptions about the company will be reflected on that page and take precedence over the information and intention provided by the owner. It should say, "Business pages will be altered at will and if you challenge that as the owner, you will be verbally abused, you can be banned and your business page will become a pinata for personal retribution from the wiki administration that is not part of the community and malicious editors" or it should at least state that once a business page is created it can't be removed and any edits made by the wiki will take precedence of that provided by the owner. -jimi

There have been a grand total of zero administrative actions taken during this whole debacle, Please stop referencing them as they have been and will remain neutral. And furthermore yes, peoples presumptions will reflect on how they view a business, but surprise surprise that happens in the real world all the time even without the help of a wiki. moreover when you make an edit you are never challenging anything, you are simply adding your side and participating instead of choosing not to. We are all equal nobody takes precedence over anyone else. Just add information don't remove

  • To add to the good point somebody made above, all entries are created by members of the community and span all topics in Davis. While some are certainly about businesses, there is no special category of "business entry". The vast majority of entries about businesses were created by people with no affiliation with the business, not the owners of the business. Quite a few of the entries are about businesses that have been closed for years before the wiki existed — in a few cases, they closed over a century ago. The wiki is about documenting Davis, and there's not really any sort of commercial motivation or consideration. -jw

If someone other that the business owner makes a page for that business and then leaves derogatory comments or uses that page as a vehicle to damage the company, it would violate SB 1411. -jimi

  • Of course it wouldn't. You're allowed to write about businesses and people. Are you saying that every profile of a person published in the Enterprise or Sac Bee is a violation of SB 1411? That every single Google Places page is illegal? That every restaurant review book published and AAA guidebook is outlawed? All voters guides and newspaper reviews (positive or negative) of any company are illegal? Everybody's allowed to write about people and businesses, even if their opinion is negative. -jw
    • (Incidentally, this is exactly the type of stuff that would be useful in a "Primer." A more comprehensive page may require the help of a lawer, and I'm not advocating that, but a simpler page with general rules of thumb like this would be useful. This kind of stuff is cited on DW all the time. —JT)
    • I'm not saying that at all. A person who makes a page for someone else or a business and uses the business graphics is "credibly impersonating" that business. Here read it again,

SECTION 1. Section 528.5 is added to the Penal Code, to read:

528.5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person

who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense punishable pursuant to subdivision (d).

(b) For purposes of this section, an impersonation is credible if

another person would reasonably believe, or did reasonably believe, that the defendant was or is the person who was impersonated.

(c) For purposes of this section, "electronic means" shall include

opening an e-mail account or an account or profile on a social networking Internet Web site in another person's name.

(d) A violation of subdivision (a) is punishable by a fine not

exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

(e) In addition to any other civil remedy available, a person who

suffers damage or loss by reason of a violation of subdivision (a) may bring a civil action against the violator for compensatory damages and injunctive relief or other equitable relief pursuant to paragraphs (1), (2), (4), and (5) of subdivision (e) and subdivision (g) of Section 502. -jimi

  • But no business own any pages on this entire site. It is a registered non-profit documenting Davis, and that intent is made very clear, from the very first paragraph on the first page. All pages are in third person, and there is a clear, speedy and common assertion that no pages are owned by any business whenever any such claim is made. Heck, there's even a Creative Commons release statement and non-profit statement at the footer of every single page on the site. -jw
  • The statute doesn't mean what you're saying at all. Go talk with your attorney if you honestly believe this. This is the kind of thing that could be the basis of a bogus legal threat. —WilliamLewis
  • Jimi, I'm going to hazard a guess that you haven't discussed this theory with Jeff Stromberg. You should do so, if you believe you'r being maliciously impersonated. Ask him about the intent element appearing in subsection (a) and the meaning of "credible" and "would reasonably believe" in subsection (b). I'm sure he could call Evan to discuss it, and he'd also be welcome to call me. I obviously have nothing to do with what's on the page, and I don't represent the wiki or anyone on it in any capacity, but I'd be happy to discuss the matter with Mr. Stromberg as an attorney familiar with the statute. I've had discussions in the past month or so about that specific statute with both the Davis PD and a Deputy Attorney General in the high tech crimes division. —TomGarberson, (559) 355-5814, tmgarberson@gmail.com


I'm in favor of dealing quickly with legal threats, although I'm leery about memory-holing stuff. I think it'd be worth doing some sort of write-up to use by default as a response to legal threats, which would be left on that user's page, along with a temp ban and deletion of the threat. A sample message:

This user has been temporarily suspended from the wiki for making legal threats (or what seem like legal threats). The ban will be lifted in a day or two, after everyone involved has had some time to cool down.

Please see the Handling Problems and Seeking Help pages.

Things can get a little fuzzy - was this a legal threat or just an implication that there's a cause of action? There will always be an element of judgment involved. For borderline cases, maybe there should be some sort of discussion or vote. For something that seems like a threat, I'd say the suspension should be automatic. If the administrators don't mind dealing with the potential headache of someone who hasn't cooled down yet from their cooldown ban, the message could include a contact e-mail address. —TomGarberson

  • Good idea, TG. I like this solution better, because memory holing does have its downsides. Sometimes one *needs* that record, after all. We could even make a temporary ban "Include" macro to make this easy and quick. —CovertProfessor
  • This is an approach I'd support as well. Its more transparent and promotes better communication. —JT
    • More transparent than what? -jw
      • Memory-holing. -JT
        • What memory-holing? -jw
          • Touche. —JT
            • No, I'm very serious, and the lighthearted way this bandying about of a profoundly serious act as if it were being done on any sort of causal basis really offends me, as I take great pains never to apply it casually and always inform the community. What are you alleging occurred? -jw
              • WL's original proposal was memory hole + temporary ban (at least I think it was WL). I thought JT was just saying that a hypothetical deletion would be more transparent than a hypothetical ban, since both proposals are on the table. But perhaps I am being too charitable in my reading? —cp
                • Yes, apologies. I thought you were joking around. If I have this correct, the origninal proposal by WL suggested memory-holing + temp. ban. Tom's proposal suggests deletion + temp. ban. Frankly, I'd prefer, the threats to remain and be openly dealt with. I think this is the most transparent approach. Alternatively, (since I believe I'm in the minority on that one), I'd support deleting any threats, and still retaining the edit history for reference (I assumed this was what Tom was after). I am still not fond of memory holing, which, as I understood it, removes the edit history. As far as banning goes, I'm on the fence, but I'd prefer a temporary ban over a permanent ban. —JT
                  • Correct. It is as if the edit never happened, no trace and no way to recover from the database (as it is removing potentially illegal content). You might want to distinguish between permanent bans on people (only a very few in the history of the wiki) and permanent bans on accounts (pretty common for commercial spam accounts). And yes, I thought you were implying that there was some going on. My faulty assumption, thanks to all for clarifying. -jw

One unexplored question is: what are the possible side-effects of a temporary ban on someone who's making legal threats on the wiki? Are they more or less likely to take actual legal action? —PhilipNeustrom

  • This is a very good question. What if we had a clearly stated policy that said that legal threats would result in a temporary ban, in a prominent place (or places) where people could see it? We could then simply say we were following wiki policy. Perhaps the person would also need some vehicle, someone to talk things through with — I take it that this is the spirit of Tom's suggestion to include a contact e-mail address. But perhaps there are other ways. —CovertProfessor

    Realistically, I'd say minimal impact. The only way it might make a difference is if they're right on the cusp of filing, it could conceivably nudge them over the edge. The filing fee of $225-395 (depending on amount of damages claimed) and the work and/or cost in preparing a complaint is probably significant enough to deter anyone just making threats to try to get their way or intimidate others. —tg

  • So after two days are we expecting that the user threatening legal action will realize the error in their ways? —mc

The hope is that taking a strong stance re: legal threats will make it clear that legal threats won't get them their way. I'm sure it won't have a 100% success rate, but it'll probably help in some cases. At that point, they can either a) drop the threats and have a rational discussion; b) continue to make threats, and... what? permaban? that's probably the next step of this discussion; or c) if they believe they have a real cause of action pursue the removal of the content through the appropriate channels, and whatever other steps they want to take. The thing is, the legal system has its own bars to entry that discourage frivolous stuff. Editors on the wiki have significant protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and California has a strong anti-SLAPP statute which protects people from lawsuits intended primarily to prevent them from participating in a public discussion on a matter of public interest. That doesn't mean no one will ever file a lawsuit, and if they do, it'll be stressful and upsetting for everyone on the receiving end. But it means something frivolous is far less likely to go through. —tg

Really good discussion, folks; it makes me confident that this wiki is being edited in a manner that adds to the community. I do have to agree, as an occasional editor, that the Penal Code section quoted above seems to have no applicability to starting a page about a business, under most circumstances. —DougWalter

Yeah. If I created the account DWalter and made the page "Doug's Widgets," claiming to be Doug Walter, owner of Doug's Widgets, that would be impersonation. Someone could reasonably think I was Doug Walter, owner of Doug's Widgets, and if I did it maliciously to harm you (rather than, say, at your request as an intern or something), I'd be in violation of that statute. If I, Tom, using my own username, create a page for Doug's Widgets, noting that you're the owner and describing the widgets you make, it's not impersonation at all, much less credible impersonation. —TomGarberson

Yep. It's actually another good reason (although pretty limited in scope) for using your real name or a publicly acknowledged nickname: you can show you are known as you, and thus aren't claiming anything else. -jw

Do we have something approaching consensus on TG's proposal? Any other concerns? —cp

  • Yes, but only a concern: that the process becomes an assumed end to the issue. Most temp bans are followed up by productive discussion driving toward consensus. While there's no reason this can't, a reliance upon a cool down ban + deletion as a way to "sweep it under the rug" could be bad, as you just get a repeating cycle with no resolution. Similar to how organizational accounts were agreed to be marked and some level of outreach given. Now they are simply tagged and people move on. Second concern is that people should call it out as a legal threat before a standard temp-ban for that. That keeps the community in the cycle rather than handing all decision making off to one person. Of course, I'll still cool-off ban if there's a wild, raving editor rampaging or if it is absolutely clear cut (an "if you touch this, I will sue your ass" or similar). The community involvement would be if the person is relatively calm and the legal threat is indirect: the community makes the call, and people can contest it as being fair (I'm thinking that makes room for factual statements that aren't threats so much as statements of what's happening in terms of charges being filed, etc).

    Basically, I'm advocating that the community makes the call in anything other than crystal clear cases. That keeps administrative action subordinate to the will of the community (where the clear cut cases have already been decided by community consensus: legal threats don't fly on the wiki, and here's the decided response). As a second objection, that allows us to avoid a zero-tolerance situation: situations can be discussed, and consensus that acknowledges the specific situation trumps blindly following any rule. It keeps it a guideline rather than hard and fast "you can't appeal, no special circumstances, etc". As a note, that is what the Wiki Spot legal counsel suggested: keep everything level, so if one person can appeal, all can. Since we can always have exceptions with community consensus, calling this a guideline for action is safer (and more honest, too!), especially when dealing with somebody keyed up for legal action. -jw

    • I think what JW is saying here is wise. —JT
      • Agreed. Whatever we write up should be as explicit as possible on these points. —cp

The only reason I suggest a LTB is that way people run into a clear brick wall, you could make it so that after people acknowledge the info on said LTB thread they can get pseudo access to edit the relevant talk pages so they can participate in that discussion but not the wiki until said legal threats have been quashed Daubert Long story short I don't like folks playing on my phone, an I keeps it real. When you threaten the wiki everything that goes on has to be momentarily tabled until after said legal threats are dealt with.

    • I take it LTB = long term ban? How long of a ban are you suggesting? (Interesting suggestion of partial access to edit talk pages). —cp
  • Sorry Legal Threats Ban... A long term ban would just be a perm Daubert
    • It can be done for a single talk page, but I don't think it can be done for "just talk pages in general". Neat idea, and one worth using, although if somebody is chucking legal threats, I don't think limiting them to a single page to edit would work well. The point of a cool-off ban is to not give them a place to escalate and rant. That would seem to just step up the perceived antagonism towards them. -jw
    • I fully support TG's suggestion, and fully support LTB's for legal threats. They make the use of the wiki more of power struggle than a friendly, informative community site. Partly why I have remained away from it for so long. It's out of hand. — Wes-P
  • I'm with JT and think that we should clearly document and preserve all legal threats against the wiki. This would both demonstrate that almost all legal threats are BS and would also possibly discourage and definitely punish people for making them. I for one, don't want to give my business to orgs or individuals that threaten crap law suits. I also think the temp ban will escalate the rage of people who make the allegations, as they will feel even more powerless. Or they will create another account. However, having said my two cents, I understand the rationale and motivations behind the deletions and temp ban and don't want my opinion being the reason behind not moving forward with it. TG's plan is certainly better than the status quo and it seems like there's consensus behind it. — mc