Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cincinnati Black Blog Smacked Down by Google

If you haven't been following the embarrassing train wreck of Cincinnati Black Blog lately, you have probably lost your chance. As the Cincy Beacon notes, Google has taken the blog down to investigate "possible Blogger Terms of Service Violations."

All this started a few weeks ago when CBB blogger Nate Livingston repurposed his dormant blog to exact personal revenge on his antagonists in a custody battle involving some public and semi-public figures. You can get a sense of the ugliness from this Bill Sloat piece.

According to Livingston, in the course of the dispute information from his daughter's confidential Juvenile Court file was released. In response he promised to publish whatever confidential information he could lay hands on about his opponents in the dispute. And, embracing the Keyser Söze school of revenge, he moves beyond that:

    And so today I launch "Operation Heightened Contradiction." I'm going to collect and publish information -- including social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, financial information, employment information, tax records, medical records, court records and whatever else I can find -- on those people involved in obtaining and making public my daughter's confidential juvenile court records. And I'm not going to stop there. I'm going to publish the records of their family members as well.
While CCB on the web has gone dark, the posts remain in my Reader. Livingston has published the social security numbers of a number of his enemies and in his last post, promised to scan in and upload medical records.

Tha Dean at CincyBeacon gets all howling fantod about the fact that Google has taken CBB down. It's pretty much cut-and-dried. The Google Content Policy states:
    We do not allow the unauthorized publishing of people's private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, and driver's and other license numbers.
Contra Tha Dean, this is something different than posting a phone number. Livingston posted information that any identity thief with a decent crawler can use to make someone's life miserable.

Plus, Google is allowed to set policy. People who howl censorship about such things really grate. As a private actor Google has the right to decide what goes up on its platform which, need they remind us, they provide free as part of their business model. As private actors we all have the right to decide what gets expressed using our property. I rarely delete comments, but when I do, it's because I don't want certain crap to be associated with my name. The right not to speak -- that is the right to decide whether certain expression may be associated with me -- is as basic as the right to speak.

Moreover, life in the Web 2.0 age can at times be scary. Regular people now have the tools to reach millions of people, and sometimes those regular people aren't screwed together too tightly. Google's policy is much looser than it could be. For example, Google sets no policy regarding libelous material which would put it in the position of being Chief Blog Cop. But they draw some sensible lines, one of which Livingston defiantly crossed.


Ben said...

If you are publishing stuff like that, I would agree, that it crosses the line and should be taken down.

Unknown said...

Pho --

Nate Livingston's nickname in some circles in Cincinnati is "Nate Rhymes With Hate." He is quite provocative -- his downside -- but he also has had some things to say over the years that were at minimum worth listening to, his upside. He also was one of the few who dared to say such things out loud. Nate has been a street protestor, an activist, a talk show host on an African American radio station. He is the master of the verbal firebomb. He lost the talk show job for being too fiery or outspoken, or some such reason. I hope he finds his voice again, and some sensibility about the things he says. I miss not having him around to read, he made me think about his perspective on the world. But I understand why he is not available at the moment. I don't think that Google is guilty of censorship per se. Nate seems to have crossed a boundary here, and there were privacy concerns, and perhaps liability issues.

Anonymous said...

"Moreover, life in the Web 2.0 age can at times be scary. Regular people now have the tools to reach millions of people, and sometimes those regular people aren't screwed together too tightly."

You ain't kidding about that. Nate is homeless and addicted and is turning on his own family. He doesn't have a job and is virtually unemployable in Cincinnati given the trail of hate that he has showered upon everyone and everything. He is finished.

Anonymous said...

To follow Bill's comments, Nate has done some good things at times, but has mostly been a whackjob over the past few years. Like Bill, I hope he's able to straighten out.

The Dean of Cincinnati is ridiculous on many levels.

(Pho, I owe you an email from way back. Crazy busy. I'll catch up soon.)