free as in speech

Is this for real? Are Automattic actually so lacking in spine that they need their community to tell them how to handle third-party attempts to censor their content?

This bit worries me:

The number of our attempts to inform and warn you regarding these defamation blogs must have been at least twenty, many times through your support page, a couple of times to your legal department and we even sent a regular mail to Mr. Matt Mullenweg. Most of our attempts were unanswered.

Guess what? Ignoring complaints, even if you think they are groundless, even if they are coming out of repressive states with a dodgy record on human rights, even if they are about blogs in a language you can’t read, doesn’t make them go away. You hire a translator and give the translations to your lawyers. You tell the complainants you are doing this. If the blogs are in violation of US law and/or the ToS, they come down and the bloggers are informed of your commitment to upholding US law and/or the ToS. If they are not, they remain in place and the complainants are informed of your commitment to free speech.

It worries me that Matt seems to think there is a decision to be made by anyone other than the lawyers.

Even if your entire Turkish community were to cry out with one voice ‘take down those pesky blogs, so we can get back to writing about cars without having to faff about with proxies!’ it makes no difference one way or the other to the legality of the content. We should not need to have a poll on this. And I should not need to be spelling these things out.

30 Comments »

  1. Root said

    I am with you on that. There is going to me more of this. They need a more pro way of dealing with it.

  2. Ben M said

    This post got me to finally delurk. It sounds like Matt is running to his buddies to ask what he should say to a girlfriend who wants to break up with him. “Oh, whatever shall I do?” At first I thought that it was considerate that we was asking the opinion of the users, but that is no way to run a business. When something like this comes up, you have to act on it. Unless all the commenters on his blog post were being paid consulting fees, he should be spelling out what Automattic did, not asking for help. Ridiculous.

  3. Ed Darrell said

    Informing the customers is a good move, I think.

  4. I agree that a clear cut strategic plan must be developed for this business for most assuredly issues like this one will rise again. I don’t understand the delaying tactic either. And as businesses are not run as democracies I’m hard pressed to understand why the wordpress.com community at large is being “consulted”.

    Heaven knows the results of almost every minor consultation on matters like themes and wp functionality issues have not led to action. So why the community should be consulted at all on what is to my way of thinking a cut and dried legal matter is beyond me.

    As you have said: “If the blogs are in violation of US law and/or the ToS, they come down and the bloggers are informed of your commitment to upholding US law and/or the ToS. If they are not, they remain in place and the complainants are informed of your commitment to free speech.”

  5. The more I think about this, the more I think this is a simple question of economics. We are talking about a small start-up which can’t even afford to keep support open on weekends and took an unfeasibly long time to get around to consulting lawyers on establishing their terms of service. It’s quite likely that they felt hiring a translator and lawyer was beyond their means, and rather than waste the money on them chose instead to believe that this guy was all talk and no action. WordPress.com must be getting to the size now where people are whining to them about libel and copyright violation all the time, and it’s probably safe to say that most of the threats to set the law on them are idle. But some of them won’t be. You never know where the next storm is going to come from.

    I do actually feel pretty sorry for Matt in all this. If he pulls the blogs down now everyone’s going to scream ‘censorship! sucking up to repressive regimes! EVIL!’ (regardless of whether they actually were against the ToS, which I cannot comment on since I speak no Turkish whatsoever and am still not a lawyer). And if he doesn’t he’s going to lose a chunk of traffic, users, and potential revenue. Both these options, obviously, suck. This is why it would have been in Automattic’s best interests to focus on whether or not the content was legal and leave public opinion out of it. His best hope is that the Turkish authorities backtrack on their decision and save him from having to make one.

  6. engtech said

    (not related to anything at all in this post or comments)

    They should make an “I am a lawyer on the Internet” degree that can be completed doing 2/hrs a week in evenings over a month. I’d get one.

    — et, esquire.

  7. Root said

    One of the questions whick keeps popping up is whether the blogs are *legal*. They maybe or not. But that is not really a proper question. The question is: are they *actionable*. Different thing.

  8. […] and “actionable” slander…or not? After reading the discussion going on at the WordPress Wank blog, here, I am rethinking my opinion about the whole “WordPress banned in Turkey” thing.  I […]

  9. No need to be sorry, they deserve to bump into the dilemma through their (in)action. That’s their choice.

    And you’re right that everything boils down to economics, not free speech or whatever. Even a non-lawyer would know Turkey’s jurisdiction wouldn’t apply to a US based company, unless people choose to fight in Turkey. Now Automattic has to choose between waiting for the ban to lift up automagically in some future, or just bite the bullet.

    Interesting to see that those Automattic employee who would usually comment here are now hiding in their own shell upon real problems.

  10. they deserve to bump into the dilemma through their (in)action

    ‘Deserving’ it is a little harsh. They don’t yet have the necessary experience in running a large, multilingual, multicultural community to be able to distinguish between serious threats and non-serious ones. Unfortunately Automattic do not have a great track record in admitting that anything is beyond them and calling in the experts, so I don’t think this is by any means the last time they are going to run into trouble. I know Californian libel lawyers are, like, really really expensive, but couldn’t the EFF or someone have helped them out? Or one of their friendly VCs stepped in with a loan?

  11. sunburntkamel said

    you know, the longer i think about this, the more i’m not sure. root’s right. actionable and legal are _very_ different things.

    Post-digg-revolt, post-strikethru-2007, it’s clear that violating your user’s wishes, regardless of what your lawyers tell you _can_ kill your site far worse than being firewalled in one country.

  12. AJ said

    But importantly, should all those mails asking for the takedown of the blogs have been left unanswered? Maybe if Autocrattic had simply replied that they are looking into it (and obviously looked into it) this might not have happened at all!

    Why is it that the standard response of is to ignore user’s mails and hope that the issue goes away?

    Ostrich in the sand?

  13. Root said

    The area where I feel sorry for Matt is a bit more subtle. On the one hand the Turkish Courts, and the plaintiff’s lawyers are clearly behaving in a way we would regard as reprehensible. The plaintiff himself is a deeply unattractive figure. But here is the thing.
    If we set up multiple WP com blog with variations on the name thecelebwelovetohate [insert your choice here].wordpress.com and then slagged him off endlessly, would that be a good thing? Would WP allow it? Does it breach the T o S? Would they take it seriously if the guy was domiciled in the US. etc. It needs a diplomat to finesse a skilful way out of this.

    I am just going off to check if billgates.wordpress.com is free. I have plenty of things I would like to say about his cult.🙂

  14. Why is it that the standard response of is to ignore user’s mails and hope that the issue goes away?

    Well, Automattic have been semi-incommunicado for the past month, what with WordCamp and then the support staff going on holiday. If there’s nobody around to answer your email, or the person who’s supposed to answer it is overloaded with tech support, it’s not going to get answered. It’s a question of resources, again.

    That said, I can’t help thinking it would have been given a higher priority if the guy was American.

    As for blogs slagging off or purporting to be by celebrities — not a big deal. Every host has them. I’ve never heard of one being taken down unless the celebrity in question complains, which hardly ever happens because they hardly ever find out.

  15. Are you so eager to complain and insult people that you start doing it before you even finish thinking about a situation? Matt asked people to share their thoughts, not whether Automattic should start censoring user content. That is not being spineless; it is being inclusive, open-minded, and considerate. What you seem to be doing is making assumptions—jumping to conclusions.

  16. Hmm, you must have been reading a different post. The one I linked to explicitly asks ‘what do you think we should do about this? How should we respond?’

    If Automattic are really that set on being inclusive and considerate, I wonder why they haven’t seen fit to update their users about what, if anything, is actually being done. Or do we only get told stuff when they want free legal advice?

  17. Root said

    That is worrying. Some folk say the ban is lifted. Is it? It is easy to start a thread. Less easy to keep folk informed.

  18. He’s updated photomatt now. The origin of this ‘press release’ he’s quoting is mysterious though. Nothing about who actually issued it, no link to the full text, all comments currently languishing in moderation. Nothing on wordpress.com itself. I think he’s trying to build up photomatt’s readership even higher in preparation for its promised removal from the default blogroll😉

  19. Yes, Matt’s post asked “what do you think we should do about this?” and “How should we respond?”, but neither of those very open questions is even remotely close to “Should we or should we not censor user content?” or anything of the sort. Responding could involve censoring content, sure, but it could also involve writing a letter to a government representative or clarifying a policy or any of many other things.

    Rather than assuming the worst and ranting about it as though it were incontrovertible fact, why not write about your concern as what it is—a concern about a possibility—and answer Matt’s questions by telling him that you think any response from Automattic should not include censorship of any kind even in cases of libel, if indeed that is your position, and why you hold that position?

  20. press releases almost never have permalinks. if it’s a proper press release (received by AP), then you can link to newsvine/reuters/wherever, but it sounds like this is just something they emailed to the people involved.

  21. That would be why he censored neglected to approve my comment asking for the full text, then.

    It’s silly, really, because now I’m thinking there must be some reason he’s concealing the rest of it (like specifics of how the original complaint was dealt with?) when it’s probably just that he doesn’t want to give them any more publicity.

  22. answer Matt’s questions by telling him that you think any response from Automattic should not include censorship of any kind even in cases of libel, if indeed that is your position, and why you hold that position?

    That’s not, of course, my position, as you would know if you had bothered to read this post before commenting on it. Unless of course you think libel is permissible under US law.

    [long, weary sigh]

  23. I was merely making a point and asking a question about discourse, not making an accusation about your opinion. Snarky, snarky.

  24. I was merely making a point and asking a question about discourse, not making an accusation about your opinion. Snarky, snarky.

  25. drmiketemp said

    not making an accusation about your opinion.

    Um, that’s not how I read it:

    What you seem to be doing is making assumptions—jumping to conclusions.

  26. Root said

    @Brian. Have you ever heard or er *prior restraint* ? And who the hell has been libelled here.? Go on. Name them. One by one.

  27. drmiketemp: Then you read it wrong; the line you quoted quite clearly opposes assumptions—jumping to conclusions—not the content of assumptions, which may or may not be correct. That was my whole point: that things assumed MAY OR MAY NOT be correct. It was addressing her process, not her opinion, which I have neither supported nor rejected.

    Root: None of that has any bearing on what I wrote. As I wrote above, I was addressing her process, not her opinion, which I have neither supported nor rejected.

  28. drmiketemp said

    Just a quick mention that they changed the ToS to cover themselves. Compare to January‘s version and look at the subpoint under part 2 that startes with “the Content is not obscene…”

  29. timethief said

    Frankly I was glad to see change to the ToS as I suggested it so very long ago.🙂

  30. […] don’t know how many people are running around with the misapprehension that wordpress.com is blocked in Turkey because of adult content, but that really can’t be good for the […]

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