Monday, July 27, 2009
The folks at the Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter were the subjects of a report in the Concord Monitor the other day that detailed recent developments in their court case with Mortgage Specialists, currently #6 on the the Implode-O-Meter's Ailing/Watchlist Lenders.
The new question concerns the site's internet forum, where posters are free to make up their own user names and post anonymously about various mortgage companies. After the "Implode-O-Meter" published an article questioning the financial health of the Plaistow-based Mortgage Specialists, a commenter said some nasty things about the company's president online. Mortgage Specialists has sued, saying the comments are defamatory and asking the website to turn over the name of the poster. The website has refused.Recall that this was discussed here briefly back in April when a judge first ordered Aaron Krowne and crew to give up the name of anonymous posters.
Websites around the internet - including concordmonitor.com - offer similar forums where writers are able to share their thoughts without the need to share their identities. The Implode case could set the standard for when websites will be forced to give up their posters' identities and when anonymous online speech should be kept anonymous.
A Superior Court judge has already heard the case, and he found for Mortgage Specialists, ordering the website to permanently delete the comments and to disclose information about the poster.
The Superior Court decision is being appealed, but what's most interesting about the situation now is that Alex Walker, the lawyer for Mortgage Specialists, seems to be dishing out a fair amount of nasty comments himself.
Walker said that McHugh's ruling (in Superior Court) got the law right. Mortgage Specialists didn't want money from the website, just information that would allow it to sue the speaker. Given the context, that was a reasonable request, he said.Walker has apparently not yet heard of Web 2.0 or of the many newspapers that are shutting their doors because of it, organizations like the Implode-O-Meter serving a very useful purpose from its inception a few years back, remaining far out in front of the mainstream media in breaking mortgage related news as the housing bubble was popping.
"I think the Implode folks have really made a mountain out of a molehill here, to really ratchet this up to be this kind of extremely important First Amendment decision, and we've never seen it that way," Walker said. "All we've been asking for is some narrowly tailored relief."
The stakes are high, Krowne said. As soon as McHugh's order came down, his stream of tips started drying up. He said that his site relies on insiders willing to share information about their ailing companies. Those people simply won't blow the whistle if they are worried about their identities being revealed, he said.
Krowne said his site may have started informally, but it's grown into an organization that adheres to journalistic norms and performs a journalistic function, by reporting on financial trouble and ethical malfeasance in the mortgage industry.
"We try to be very careful, and I think we were in this case," Krowne said. "We had good information come to us, and there was no good reason why we shouldn't be able to publish it."
Walker said that Implode's status is more marginal. The company didn't adhere to good journalistic standards he said, and can't be considered a legitimate news organization. He also said the company's first reaction was telling. When asked, the company immediately removed the content from its site.
"If it's as big a First Amendment issue as they now say it is, why would they do that?" he asked.
Aaron has a few thoughts on Walker's comments, notably:
You read that right... Walker is complaining that ML-Implode didn't adhere to good journalistic standards, even though ML-Implode quickly and provisionally took down the objectionable materials to allow for due process and a full finding of the facts (and NOT because MoSpec "demanded" it, as Walker untruthfully asserts).Anyone feeling the urge to write something nasty about Mr. Walker, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
The defamatory aspect comes in with Walker's next statement, which implies that ML-Implode doesn't care about defending free speech because it took down the content. But Walker knows from the fact that ML-Implode is appealing the lower court ruling that our goal is to be able to -- legally -- put the content back up. In other words, he has attempted to smear ML-Implode as uncaring about free speech, even though we are continuing the legal fight specifically to make sure we are free and clear to repost all of the contentious content -- for this time and to defend the free speech rights of all future contributors (why else would we go to the trouble? Please someone explain that one.)