December 13th, 2007 by Kenan Farrell
A Chinese internet troll has filed a lawsuit against a news website for blocking his IP address to prevent him from commenting on its bulletin board. China Daily reports that Wang Haiyang, 60, was blacklisted last year by www.dahe.cn, a news portal belonging to Dahe Daily News Group in Henan Province, for using abusive language on the bulletin boards. The suit raises questions that will arise more often as virtual worlds gain popularity in China.
Administrators claim to have repeatedly warned Wang about his language and moved to block Wang late last year. However, as any dedicated troll will, Wang changed user names and reappeared on the website repeatedly. Eventually, administrators blocked all IP addresses from Wang’s community at Kaifeng Railcom. Wang wants the news company to unblock his IP address, issue a public apology and pay him 48,000 yuan ($6,400) in “spiritual compensation,” or compensation for mental suffering. Wang posted 5,664 bulletins since registering in 2004, 460 of which were deleted by administrators because of abusive language.
According to a national internet security regulation: “The use of the Internet for insulting others or fabricating facts to slander others constitutes a crime and should indicate criminal responsibility in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law.”
Based on the repeated abusive language , most should agree with Dahe Daily’s decision to block Wang, often a moderator has no other alternative when dealing with a persistent troll. After all, free speech doesn’t equal free language. China Daily claims this is the first time a virtual argument has led to a real lawsuit in China, and that the case is raising concerns nationwide.
In an authoritarian system, the ability to block an entire community due to the actions of one dissenting voice could lead to troubling results. Virtual worlds are increasingly popular in China, and are fertile grounds for the free-flow of ideas and innovation. But it’s hard to envision a “free” virtual world developing with regulations that define acceptable Internet uses and which do not permit users to create, replicate, retrieve or transmit certain kinds of information, such as any information:
(1) Inciting to resist or breaking the Constitution or laws or the implentation of administrative regulations;
(2) Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system;
(3) Inciting division of the country, harming national unification;
(4) Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harming the unity of the nationalities;
(5) Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumors, destroying the order of society;
(6) Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder;
(7) Terrorism or inciting others to criminal activity; openly insulting other people or distorting the truth to slander people;
(8) Injuring the reputation of state organs;
(9)Other activities against the Constitution, laws or administrative regulations.
Foreign companies operating in China (Google, Blizzard Activision, Linden Labs, etc.) are responsible for the editing and censoring of content and, if not managed properly, risk fines or closings. Obviously, deciding what information violates these regulations is tricky in itself — after all, what sort of language/behavior do we usually expect from a Level 24 Troll Shaman?
Private companies are being asked to make critical decisions regarding users’ actions and will likely err on the side of over-censoring to avoid punishment themselves. Even after making a determination that “unacceptable information” was shared, it shouldn’t then be appropriate to deny access to an entire community. This seems to promote, rather than nipping a rose at the bud, simply tearing out the whole bush.
Also, this blogger would be remiss not to highlight the current state of defamation law in the U.S. For background, please read the EFF’s FAQ on Online Defamation Law. Glenn Reynolds has also written an excellent paper on the topic recently, downloadable from SSRN, here. In view of China’s regulations, trolls certainly should appreciate the freedoms of the U.S. Internet.
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