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Court Finds That Google Not Responsible For Internet Defamatory Campaign

Vancouver lawyer Glenn Niemela is not pleased with the A.B.C. Supreme Court decision that Google is not responsible for the defamatory information splashed across the internet. In a landmark case, a Supreme Court judge declared Google not guilty of publishing defamatory information about the lawyer online.

Niemela sued Google to compel them to block the over 146 websites that contained defamatory information about the lawyer, insisting that it was their duty to pull down the websites that defame his character. His claim is that the URLs contain remarks about him that are false and defame his reputation.

It all started in 2012, when Niemela became the victim of a vicious campaign that started with extortion and harassing phone calls from solicitors and DUI attorney Seattle. By March 2013, there was a defamatory Internet campaign to destroy him personally and professional. Reaching across international sites, his character was being viciously attacked. The object of investigation is Strato Malamas, a former client who was allegedly connected to the Hells Angels organization and responsible for launching the attack.

In true fashion of the “world wide web”, the defamatory information became linked from site to site and soon was just about everywhere. Niemela insists that it was this campaign of attack that led to his business being harmed, and his livelihood being even more so. With website linking, all told, the defamatory marks led to as many as 140 plus sites that contained negative information about him.

Google’s defence is that they do not handpick which comments or links are related, or how the information is broadcast. Using things called algorithms, it is all computer monitored and generated.

Insisting they can’t be held responsible for everything that is published on the internet, they cried foul when blamed for the campaign waged. Google showed how it was not of their doing that things became interrelated, but the use of “keywords” that triggered the expansion of information across the internet.

The court insisted that Google is only the vector by which people use the internet, not the police of it. A search engine, they can’t be held responsible for the information that is all over the internet. With over 60 trillion sites to monitor, there is no humanly possible way for them to be the officers for all the information on the internet. They do not create the content, they merely categorize and make it useful to the consumer.

Their algorithms are nothing more than robots that help to make the information on the internet useful to the masses. If search engines such as Google were not available, the internet would be much like a library without a catalogue to find anything.

To Niemela’s dismay, the case was dismissed. Making his case even less strong, there is evidence that in March of 2013, when the case was brought to light, Niemela was on record saying that he was “satisfied” with the steps that Google had taken after his plight was made public.

Since the internet started, it has challenged the current court system in many ways. With issues of privacy and reputation, it is possible for people to say what they want to the detriment of others, even if it is not truthful.

The freedom of speech has never before been pushed to such limits. At what point do the rights of free speech override the rights of the individual to protect their reputation? Just three decades ago, the worst that someone could do to defame someone was through word of mouth.

Now a disgruntled individual can spread lies to millions around the world, not only anonymously, but instantly. Policing the internet is not an easy thing to do. With trillions of users and websites, there is no physical way for anyone to monitor humanly what is going on, or to enforce laws governing it.

Currently pushing the limits of freedom of speech that are related to this case, are sites that are fostering the radicalization of religious zealots. Obviously, a public health concern, do we shut them down and go against our freedom of speech, and to some degree, press? Or, do we learn a new way to fight against harmful content on the internet.

A Presidential hopeful in the United States has proposed that internet sites be “blocked” from the site of American’s when deemed harmful. You don't have to be a lawyer to see where that potentially could lead to concerns about an individual’s rights. What is for sure is that the internet will continue to challenge current laws and will test our system for years to come.

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