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Linking Liabilities

If you post a link to an article found to be libelous (on Twitter, your blog, Facebook, wherever), could you also be guilty of libel?

That’s the question the Canadian Supreme Court heard last week, and just imagine if they rule that it is, how that could change the way we use social media.

The opening segment on a recent edition of the CBC radio show Spark was a very interesting discussion with David Fewer, director of CIPPIC: The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic on the implications.

Here’s the essence of the case:

[Vancouver businessman Wayne] Crooke is suing the publisher of a site called p2pnet for a post about free speech in Canada, written in response to a libel lawsuit brought by Crooke. In the post, publisher Jon Newton linked to the allegedly libelous articles. Crooke asked him to remove the links, but Newton refused, so Crooke accused him of defamation.

The case has been kicking around the Canadian legal system since 2006 and Crooke lost in two lower court rulings.  But the fact that their Supreme Court agreed to hear the case gives anyone linking in that country a degree of uncertainty in their writing.

All this legal wrangling up north reminded me of an article I wrote for our state technology organization’s journal a little over ten years ago* about several lawsuits over “deep linking”, the practice of hyperlinking directly to a page within a web site instead of going through the front door.

Those cases were settled after many years in court (and the exchange of big money), and a decade later no one thinks twice about linking to any page on the web.

If someone decides to import the concept of links possibly being libelous, all of that could change. At least for the very long time it takes for issues like this to wind their way through the American judicial system.

By the way, as long as you’re visiting the site for this episode of Spark, take a listen to the third segment as well.

Since this month is the 20th anniversary of the web, the producers asked another 20 year old, a college student, to parallel her life events with the major milestones of the web.  A very clever way to show just how far the web has come in a short period of time.

Hopefully, it won’t all get derailed by a large pile of legal crap, not to mention political infighting and corporate greed.

*As far as I know, no one has wasted their time to digitize the issue for the web.

The Gamification of Life

On last week’s edition of Spark, my new favorite podcast, the topic was games and the first segment was a very interesting discussion with Jesse Schell, a game designer who also teaches at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

His thesis is that, while games of one kind or another have always been with us, the ability to store and access huge quantities of data in the 21st century is bringing about the “gamification” of life.

The whole discussion is worth listening to (an extended version is also on the show site) but there were two pieces that stood out for me.

First, is Schell’s view of school as gaming.

People are already talking about how to reorganize [using gaming techniques] school because school is already a kind of a game. You go they have tasks, you do the tasks, you get a score. In games we have a leader board. In school you call it an honor roll. So school is already a kind of a game.


People are talking about how can we design that better. How can we track what you’re doing a little better, give you more instant feedback?

He uses a student doing math problems for homework as an example of where gaming systems might be used to give kids feedback on their work, although I would hope we could come up with better ways to apply these concepts.

That view of education is somewhat disconcerting, but Schell’s thoughts on how advertisers will use gaming techniques are rather scary.

His thesis seems to be that, when marketers begin to understand all this, it will be almost impossible to get away from someone trying to sell you something.

Everything is going to be trying to distract you constantly and it’s going to have much more ability to distract you because these things are going to know where you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going.

The advertisers are just now starting to wake up to the power of games. I think for the 20th century the dominant means of building one’s brands and capturing a person’s imagination had to do with graphic arts. It had to do with logo design and designing brilliant commercials and beautiful ads in magazines.

I think in the 21st century it’s going to be much more about game design. It’s going to be much more about how can I incentivize you to focus on my product, pay attention to my product, tell your friends about my product, think about my product all the time. Game design is going to make that very easy to do.

The host noted, quite correctly, that it sounded like advertisers were going to have us all in digital versions of a Skinner box, bombarding us with stimuli to reward us for the correct behavior.

Of course, there’s a right way and wrong way to apply the gaming concepts Schell is working on, in education, marketing, or any other area of life.

I suspect we’ll have to suffer through a whole lot of the wrong approach before we get to the right ones.

We should also be including a big dose of media awareness in every student’s curriculum from the first day they enter school.

Image: Giant Chess Board in Lindenhof, Zurich by szeke, used under a Creative Commons license.

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