Fact-Checking Servers to Reduce Libel Risk

Jul 4, 2033
PALO ALTO–In December, three of the top five U.S. ISPs plan to install new software to reduce the risk that their customers will be exposed to libel and gossip liability for content that they post. The software, developed by Black Hole Skunkworks, a joint venture of Stanford University and a consortium of newspaper and publishing multi-nationals, screens all user-generated content, alerting posters to possible legal liability for dissemination of libelous or gossipicuous information.

U.S. Supreme Court validation last year of the Responsible Network Speech Act has given the green light to a series of high-profile “personal liability” and “gossip” suits against posters with deep pockets. In Hanks v. Oinks a Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that traditional First Amendment protections permitting publication of potentially libelous information by members of the press did not apply to individual on-line posters. Three months later, upholding a $19 million judgment of liability for “re-publishing, re-posting, or disseminating the libelous statement of another,” the Supreme Court, on a narrow 5-4 margin, affirmed for the first time that civil liability for “gossip” did not violate Constitutional principles.

“The Court had to settle the issue one way or another,” explains Columbia Law Professor Egger Shriev. “The openness of electronic media has created unprecedented opportunities for individuals to reach audiences previously only reachable by the traditional press. Most of us expected the Court to explicitly extend press protection to individuals, but the influence of the strict textualists was too great.”

The fact-checking software developed by Black Hole, according to company promotional materials, offers posters “protection from liability for inadvertently libelous or gossipicuous posts.” The software processes all of a user’s uploaded data through a parser that identifies the “propositional content” of the posts, which is then encoded in a low-profile, “Eigen-assertion” stored on the local client. A peer-to-peer query then searches for clients who have posted matching assertions. User-configurable lists determine which matching sources the user trusts for verification. Default configuration permits assertions to be confirmed by articles published by newspaper and magazines that have partnered with Black Hole.

Posts that could be confirmed by such major publications, however, have not been at the heart of recent court cases. The Oinks case, for example, dealt with a post on a semi-public discussion board in which a Peoria man described his neighbor as “a stinky, rude, bum” and a “mouth-breather.” Such posts are unlikely to be confirmable by citation of the traditional press. Black Hole addresses this problem by focusing its peer-to-peer query on sources judged to be likely to confirm the assertion, and then returns a weighted evaluation of the liability risk. “If Oinks had run our software, the query would have looked, for instance, for confirming assertions made by other neighbors, by Hanks’ family members and co-workers, ” explains CEO Pauline Snipe. “And, I feel pretty confident saying this, it would have warned him not to make the post.”

Free-speech advocacy groups frustrated by the recent run of court rulings consider the announced software a mixed blessing. “We’re happy this software exists in this difficult speech climate,” notes ACLU spokesperson Jack Jack. “To the extent that it gives individuals the confidence to speak, it should do something to ameliorate the chilling effect of the Act and the Court’s endorsement of it. On the other hand, to the extent that it makes things easier for people, it makes it harder for us to mobilize opinion against the seriously wrong-headed direction U.S. law has taken.”

“This is really just a ploy by traditional press and media to maintain their monopoly on dissemination of information,” points out media watchdog group EyeSpy spokesperson Henriette Oll. “Who do you think lobbied for the Responsible Speech Act? The same companies that have partnered with and invested in Black Hole. By ensuring that individuals would be held to a stricter standard than they would, the corporate run ‘Press’ was tightening their grip on information. And now they want to ‘protect’ us by selling us software that tells us not to say anything that isn’t confirmed by something they’ve already said? It’s about time we realized that the corporate Press doesn’t even give a shit about its own freedom, let alone ours.”

Earth a Franchise, Astrophysicists Discover

Dec. 8, 2162
CANBERRA–Money, it seems, really does make the world go round. A team of top astronomers has today announced observational confirmation of Marguerite Fury’s controversial General Theory of Unified Universal Monetary Force. Working at the Rudyard Kipling Indenational Observatory, the team spotted and documented a companion, or “franchise,” Earth in the remote V-137 cluster.[p]
“It’s really quite an astounding find,” exclaims team leader Frances Polt, “unparalleled in my 30 year career. The observations predicted by Professor Fury’s work are really starting to crop up at a rate that tends to confirm her insights, but this find is more important for the Theory than anything to date.”

“The General Theory,” explains Professor Fury from her office in Reykjavik, “generalizes my findings concerning the monetary force commonality underlying the four fundamental forces. I realized there that the four forces were, at root, economic in nature, but that, when observed on the quantum level, they weren’t recognizable on the observational scales conventionally used in the financial world. Capital economies fixate upon large masses of funds; they never consider that the fundament of money–unaccountably small fractions of pennies, for example–might also be the fundament of matter. The physics community, likewise, failed to recognize the link.”

Professor Fury’s General Theory predicts that astronomical observations will identify in the structure of the universe common economic principles of organization, including franchising. The franchise Earth, provisionally called “Earth F” by the Kipling team, shares with our Earth a common “matter plan” and “marketing scheme.” “If you look at the profile and content of signals Earth F is sending out, you’ll see that they’re following the same communications strategy that we are,” notes Kipling’s Polt. “Their message to the universal market is the same as ours. Together we should be achieving some market synergies that non-franchised planets can’t.”

In the wake of the recognition of Earth’s franchise status, the race is on to discover our corporate headquarters. “Now that there is some real observational data to confirm the General Theory it makes sense to look seriously at some of the corollaries of franchising,” concedes long-time Fury critic Professor Angstrom Ship of the Harvard Institute of Technology. “If these data are right, and if the General Theory is right, there’s a lot to be learned from headquarters, a lot that will explain the formal and physical constraints that have shaped our short planetary history.”

Some other respected public figures continue to dispute Fury’s work, including the fairly widely accepted Special Theory of Unifying Monetary Force. “The Special Theory reeks of a suspect animism,” points out Hillary Ja, an out-spoken lay-critic. “It talks about these primordial quantum ‘monies’ which determine the way we are, the way the whole universe is. Does that make sense to you? Is it all about money?”

“There is quite a bit of resistance in the public imagination to the implications of the Special Theory,” Professor Fury responds. “But, as untold experimental observations have confirmed, the universe is, fundamentally, economic. Whether we despair at the realization, or profit by it, is up to us.”

Kids You Can Be Proud Of, Guaranteed

Oct. 9, 2162
OSLO–Foundlings Inc., the Norwegian subsidiary of Fertility Services International, today began offering clients the ability to ensure that their children will make them proud. The company allows parents to select from a roster of LifeStories for their children, including careerpaths, financial success, social popularity, and even political affiliations and voting records.[p]
“Other companies have tried to offer genealogical tailoring, but they have operated on a ‘genetic engineering’ model, selling genetic traits,” explains company VP Ecker Eerin. “But that’s not what our customers care about. Does Little Johnny have blue eyes or brown eyes? I really don’t care. Frankly I find eugenics services like that morally offensive. What I want to know is that Johnny is going to have a happy and fulfilling life. That’s what we give our customers.”

The service works by exploiting detailed biographical profiles of the future lives of yet un-conceived children. Customers fill out descriptions of the lives and lifestyles they would like for their children and company computers search databases of future biographical profiles for matches with the right sort of life and an imminent conception date. Company salespeople then contract with the parents of the child, purchasing rights to the desired child and securing an agreement that they forbear from having a child for a variable period of from 2-3 years. The customer is then fertilized with a prefabricated egg bearing the genetic signature of the desired child.”

“Rather than getting for our clients individual genetic traits they request-traits which are really just a proxy for the success every parent wants for her child-we are in the business of acquiring fulfilling lives for their children,” notes head of research Vender Little. “The ‘traits’ and ‘eugenics’ people have really misjudged the market, forcing parents to make morally repugnant decisions just in the hopes that the ‘traits’ they pick will have positive consequences for their children. They focus narrowly on the ‘nature’ side of the equation, when what parents want is the outcome of a successful ‘nurture.’ By looking into the future and seeing what sort of people these kids will eventually be, we can guarantee that our customers will be proud parents for the lifetime of their children.”

The company’s services, though, are not without their detractors. Economic Justice Front press releases point out that Foundlings’ clients are chiefly the rich, and the ‘successful’ children they buy come almost exclusively from parents of lesser means.

“Parents must make their own value-maximizing decisions,” explains U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust economist Purvis Exel. “For some, that will mean selling the rights to a child destined to rise above her circumstances. But we make those sorts of calculations all of the time. Families need to be able to choose what’s more important, some money now, paid by Foundlings, or the happiness and financial success of the next generation. At the same time, it’s not a zero-sum game. Parents who sell the rights to a ‘successful’ child can still have an even more successful child later on. Nothing prevents that in the individual case. Still, on average, if the service is popular it will tend to ossify class lines, with the poor selling to the rich children whose success would otherwise increase the incidence of class mobility.”

It is no surprise that Antitrust regulators worldwide have taken an interest in the company, as it works in close partnership with Futurefeedforward, the giant research and financial services multi-national who supplies Foundlings with the future biographical profiles on which the service depends. “We’re looking at this closely,” notes Exel. “We want to be sure that Futurefeedforward isn’t using its dominance of the futuredata industry to control other emerging industries.”

Coming to a Stain Near You: Ads!

July 23, 2104
MADISON, NJ–If Nanosigns inc. has anything to say about it, advertisers will no longer be crying over spilled milk. At this year’s World Marketing Conference, the wholly-owned subsidiary of pharmaceutical and biotech giant American Home Products announced a new application for its fluid-manipulating nanobots: assembling advertising slogans and logos from spilled liquids.

The digestible, bio-degradable nanobots, suspended in any bottled or packaged fluid, are activated upon contact with the air. The bots quickly, cooperatively, assess the size of the spill and, manipulating the liquid on the molecular level, assemble an optimally-sized, pre-determined logo or slogan from the spilled liquid.

Spilled condiments can promote detergents appropriate for cleaning the stains they make. Spill-over from guzzled energy drinks can advertise upcoming athletic events. One early, unidentified customer plans to have excess beer foam form the familiar logo of its new line of trucks.

Originally designed to control spills of industrial solvents and petrochemicals, the nanobots required some modification before they were ready for the consumables market. Eliot Sterns, chief scientist at Nanosigns, explains: “Digestibility proved the most difficult challenge: digestibility without significant effect on flavor or calorie content. We’re talking about millions of self-replicating bots in a bottle of catsup, so we had to do some careful taste tests, look at the effect on the color and texture of the fluid medium, things like that. In the end we came up with something not unlike a living organism, but built from and around sugars rather than proteins.”

AHP invested billions in the development of nanobots for chemical spill containment, only to find the market evaporate in the wake of Congressional actions absolving dumpers of liability for “unintentional” health and environmental consequences of spills.

“It turns out that we were working against ourselves” notes a former, highly-placed executive at the company. “Our research folks were pouring money into technologies for containing and controlling spills and leaks of chemicals while our political people were pulling for ‘no liability’ legislation. It turns out that the political solution was less costly, but we’d already put a lot into the nano thing. Somebody had to take the fall for that.”

The Nanosigns subsidiary took work that had been lying dormant at AHP for years and discovered an innovative application that’s good for advertisers and good for consumers. But some caution that these “spill signs” may be one step too far.

“How do we know that these nano-bots are not simply a way to bring advertising into our bodies?” asks Professor M. Vendicott, director of Chemistry in the Public Interest. “These ‘bots’ might be directing ads to our digestive organs as they pass through. Advertising is surely a good thing, as long as it isn’t inside me.”