by Jessica Holyoke on 21/08/11 at 2:10 am
As reported here, two teens were sentenced to four years of prison each for using Facebook to incite a riot after UK officials monitored social media. Prime Minister David Cameron stated that while social medi can be used for good, the same media can also be used for ill and must be monitored and controlled.
At the same time, an ocean and a continent away, a cartoonist is being charged with cyber stalking after making videos mocking the local police department and their unethical ways. Judge Cayce in Kings County, Washington heard arguments on the warrant this week.
Meanwhile, Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao - two Chinese dissidents - are still prisoners in the People's Republic of China.
Now as I previously wrote on the Herald, Yahoo! China released the identifying details of Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao to the Beijing security services. Wang and Shi were not operating under the real names, but as pseudonyms. Then Yahoo! was sued in the United States, brought before the U.S. House of Representatives, and made to beg for forgiveness from Wang and Shi's families.
This was in 2008. After the first two stories, I start noticing something.
Facebook doesn't like avatar names. Google Plus doesn't like avatar names. Second Life also looked at linking real names with avatar names. The Kings County prosecutor, who was selected by the police to prosecute this case, is currently trying to get a warrant served after a motion to quash was filed. But the Crown Prosecutors didn't need to bother, as the youths sentenced just used their real names. And as an added bonus, China is congratulating the UK on its internet restrictions.
Suppose - besides providing better accuracy for advertisers - Facebook, Google and the rest are demanding real names to prevent being in Yahoo!'s position in 2008? If the authorities already know who to come after, there is no need to turn over any information. The person is as exposed as if they were in a city street shouting the same statements, but in the online world their words are recorded forever with an arrow pointing to them.
This approach reduces the internet service provider's liability. When the Wang and Shi cases came around, the commentator class said Yahoo! didn't need to turn over the information. Simply put, if a Chinese security services officer asked an employee located in China for information on dissidents, the employee could turn them away and nothing further would happen to the employee or the company. Because as anybody knows, police officers will simply go away if you tell them no.
Yahoo! was sued when they turned over the identifying information, and had to settle the suit while being called before the U.S. Congress to testify about what happened. But if Yahoo! had not turned over the identifying information, then beyond a loss of business, Yahoo!'s Chinese employees might have found themselves arrested for anything up to being an accessory to obstructing justice.
Notice that while Yahoo! was sued and called before Congress and told they had failed, the two dissidents are still in jail, three years later.
By moving from avatar identity and pseudonyms to legal identities, Google and Facebook can step back and let whatever authorities arrest whoever they want because without pseudonyms protecting avatars/players and involving corporate bottom lines.
What will be truly telling is whether Judge Cayce allows the Kings County cartoonist warrant to go through. Will Google balk at revealing the identifying of the cartoonist McFiddlesticks - and then face liability themselves, or will Google comply and let a person who anonymously aired out the police department's dirty laundry without identifying the department's name be put on trial for a potential felony?