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Possible takedown models

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Possible takedown choices

Model A: Leave everything as is, if:
• The request is designed to retain image or avoid embarrassment
• No discernible evidence of factual or legal issue
• Value of not changing information for historical, reality reasons
• Publishing the truth, as best we can determine it
• Credibility of the student media is paramount
• Your mission is to be an accurate record of events and issues

Model B: Publish corrections, retractions or updates, if:
• The information is proven factually false or otherwise legally deficient as of the time it was published
• There is a need for transparency concerning source inaccuracy
• There is a need to provide context and perspective of published information
• The staff needs to clarify or update information
• The staff feels the situation is considered a gray area best solved by compromise
• The staff can write a follow-up story

 Model C: Take down information, if
• One-time reasons, like fabrications, protection of sources exist
• Staffs need to correct something they determine, as best they can, harm to the persons identified outweighs all other factors

See more for the complete package:
Evaluating legal demands
Evaluating ethical choices
10 steps to a “Put Up” policy
Resources
Handling online comments

 

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Ethical principles and considerations

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If your students have to make takedown decisions, the legal advice is essential. Just as important are the various ethical possibilities, too.

While the legal principles are relatively clear, ethical principles might not be.. In ethical decision-making, there is topically no right or wrong but primarily right v. right decsision. Such decisions might depend on the mission and goals of your student media.

These points might help in ethical decision-making:
• The default position is not to take down anything newsworthy or accurate at the time of original publication unless there are clear, definably correct legal reasons: libel, unwarranted invasion of privacy, obscenity. Everything else stays. The reason: if someone on the staff thought it good enough to post once, it should stay.  Maybe Put Up guidelines would help students avoid later issues. If your material is legally unsupportable or demonstrably inaccurate, you would likely, for justifiable journalistic reasons, want to change it.
• Original posts and articles also have historical/reality value. Good enough to go up, good enough to stay up. In Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s Elements of Journalism, the first obligation is to publish, no matter the platform, the truth as best we know it. Second-guessing that later, for whatever reason, can set a nasty precedent of what the historical record is. Considering Takedown demands/requests might also start students on a slippery slope of second-guessing and ultimately self-censorship.
• If there is a one-time reason, like something later proven to be untrue, then the student staff could make an exception. These exceptions would, by definition, be rare.
• Lastly, just because students agree to take down an item, does not cleanse the Web of the information, image or information.
• Some compromises that can be taken, according to The Online Privacy Blog include:
–Sunsetting that retires certain kinds of information (like arrests) after a certain preset period
–Block the article from search engines
–Make names anonymous or remove  them
–Unpublish the entire article if the information is “old, irrelevant or dangerous to an individual’s privacy or safety”
–Add an update for clarification

See more for the complete package:
Evaluating legal demands
Decision models
10 steps to a “Put Up” policy
Resources
Handling online comments

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Put Up recommendations

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Developing a Put Up Policy
Sometimes the best way to think about a Takedown Policy is to devise a system of proactive steps to avoid needing to take information down. Here are 10 steps to take before publishing:
• Independently confirm information to be used for accuracy, context, perspective, truth and coherence
• Determine whether sources used are credible and representative of diverse and knowledgeable viewpoints
• Clearly attribute all information as needed for clarity and authority
• Avoid anonymous sources except in situations where they are the best source and identities need protection
• Determine whether sources used have conflicts of interest
• Ensure your information has gone through a vetting process with editors
• If using teens or young people as sources, do so with an understanding of minimizing harm as well as publishing truthful and contextual information
• If using social media sources, be sure information is attributed, accurate, in context and used legally and ethically
• Train and background reporters in legal and ethical issues
• If using crowd generated content, clearly indicate the source and ensure its credibility
• Be skeptical of any information you cannot verify

See more for the complete package:
Evaluating legal demands
Evaluating ethical choices
Decision models
Resources
Handling online comments

read more

Legal considerations for responding to takedown demands

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by Mark Goodman
When a student news organization receives a demand to remove content from its website, consider a handful of legal considerations as well journalistic and ethical ones.

The first question should always be, what’s the reason for the demand?
• Is it based on a claim the content in question was factually inaccurate and damaging to someone’s reputation (in other words, libelous)?
• Or is it based on the fact the content in question is embarrassing to someone and reveals information they would rather not have exposed (an invasion of privacy)?
• Or perhaps the claim is the material infringes on someone else’s copyright?
• Maybe the complaint is the person making the demand just doesn’t like the content – it’s offensive to them or conflicts with their perspective.

The last of these four common reasons for a takedown demand is the easiest to dispose of, at least from a legal perspective.  A news organization never has an obligation to remove content simply because someone doesn’t like it.  Unless the individual making the demand is alleging an identifiable person has suffered a personal injury as a result of the content, there typically is no risk of a legal claim to be concerned about.

If the claim is “you’ve infringed my copyright,” the demand should be taken seriously.  Did the student news medium obtain permission to use the content before publication?  Or is the use of the content what the law refers to as a “fair use?” (Generally, using a small part of a copyrighted work for news or commentary about the copyright owner of that work will be considered a fair use.  For example, using an image from an album cover to illustrate a review of that album will always be considered a fair use.)  Remember, the fact you didn’t intend to infringe a copyright or that you didn’t understand what copyright protected is not a defense.  If your use represents a copyright infringement, your obligation is to take the work down.  The Student Press Law Center has excellent resources available about fair use and copyright infringement.  You can find them here: http://www.splc.org/knowyourrights/legalresearch.asp?maincat=6

Many takedown demands are the result of individuals believing their privacy has been invaded.  Even if the content has been up for years, they may believe the fact they face consequences from it now (being asked about it by prospective employers, for example) is justification for demanding its removal from your website.  The good news, legally, is if the content was not an unwarranted invasion of privacy at the time it was published, it can’t be one subsequently.
• For example, if your students accurately report a student was arrested and charged with vandalizing the school, that content is protected from an invasion of privacy claim. Accurate reporting about allegations of crime and other legal matters will almost never meet the requirements for an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
• But, if the information did constitute a legally actionable invasion of privacy at the time of publication, takedown is a necessary step. For more information in this area of the law, see: http://www.splc.org/knowyourrights/legalresearch.asp?id=29

Concerns about damage to reputation are one of the frequent justifications raised by those who demand content be taken down.  Using the example above, a student arrested and charged with the crime of vandalizing school property may raise the fact he was subsequently found not guilty of the crime or perhaps even the charges were dropped.
• Again, if the information was accurate and not legally actionable at the time of publication, new facts won’t remove the legal protection for having published it in the first place.
• And if the complaint isn’t about inaccuracy but rather just about embarrassment, there is an easy defense: truth.  The publication of factually accurate information at the time of publication can never be the basis of a successful libel suit.
• For more information about libel, see http://www.splc.org/knowyourrights/legalresearch.asp?id=27

One other important legal consideration when responding to a takedown demand, especially when the requested remedy is just to remove a part of a story or other content: you may be opening the door to potential lawsuits by others.  Lawsuits for privacy invasion and libel must be filed within a set time frame after the content was first published (1-2 years in most states). This is called the statute of limitations. Most courts have concluded that the clock starts running on the date the content was first posted online, not when the people mentioned in the story first learned of it.  *But if you materially edit a story that appears on online, that can start the statute of limitations clock all over again.

The best legal advice: only respond to takedown demands when you have a solid journalistic or legal reason for doing so.  But when you have published legally unprotected content, you can lessen the likelihood of being sued or a significant damage award by removing the offending content from your website.

The Student Press Law Center offers a detailed analysis of responding to takedown demands.  You can find that here: http://www.splc.org/pdf/takedowndemand.pdf

Mark Goodman is the Knight Chair of Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University and the former Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center.

See more for the complete package:
Evaluating ethical choices
Decision models
10 steps to a “Put Up” policy
Resources
Handling online comments

 

read more