Thursday, September 11, 2008

More RE: United Incident

On Monday, Drive and Dish looked at how an erroneous report that United Airlines had filed for Chapter 11 sent United stock plummeting. Tuesday, it was revealed that the Google News reader had picked up an old Chicago Tribune/South Florida Sun-Sentinel that detailed United's 2002 Chapter 11 filing, and had mis dated it as a current news story. Frank the Tank picked up on our post and asks what responsibility news aggregators have in ensuring that their content (including dates/time stamps, etc.) is accurate. Always interesting, Frank the Tank also raises the prospect of potential securities litigation resulting from the United incident (in addition to sharing some thoughts on the Chicago Bulls, Fighting Illini basketball, NFL salaries and Iowa Hawkeye football blogs):

"More disturbing, though, is a follow-up today about a squabble between Google and the Tribune Company (which owns both the Tribune and the Sun-Sentinel), where it appears that the Google News engine put Monday’s date on the old Sun-Sentinel story. Thus, this shock to the markets appears to have been caused by a news aggregator putting a wrong date on a link. If you’re an investor like me, the speed with which the market reacted to what turned out to be an old news story is absolutely frightening ...

It’s clear that there are journalistic standards that news organizations need to stand by in terms of getting stories accurately reported. However, what obligation do news aggregators, who are in essence posting links from those news organizations, have in terms of ensuring that the date and time stamps to those links are correct? The United scenario that played out on Monday has probably just opened up a whole new area of the securities litigation - shareholders that saw their stock dive as a result of wrong date and time stamps might have some ammunition against Google and other news aggregators. Whether those shareholders could actually prove that Google and other news aggregators have some type of legal duty to the general public with respect to checking these date and time stamps, though, is another matter that can’t be answered at this time."


Slate's "Explainer" answers a poster from the Yahoo! Finance Message Board who lost $19,000 and asks "WHO THE HELL DO WE SUE?":

"(I)f it's damages that United, or anyone else, is seeking, good luck. The law provides strong protections for Internet linkers, which seems to exonerate Google, Bloomberg, and Income Securities Advisors. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 unambiguously states, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." What about the original source of the news, the Tribune Co.? Yesterday it acknowledged that the link to the 2002 bankruptcy article was indeed pushed to the "most viewed" list on the Sun-Sentinel's site, which caught Google's eye. But despite this admission, the threshold for libel is pretty high. There has to be malicious intent, and mere negligence isn't enough. Public entities like United (as opposed to private individuals) generally have an even higher threshold; reckless indifference is not enough."

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