October 01, 2007

Debunking AT&T Censoring Criticism Via Terms-Of-Service

[I wrote this for a mailing list, in a futile shouting against the wind. Sigh. Why bother? It's a bad habit. [sad face image] ]

Please folks, whenever an it's-an-outrage campaign starts going around, do the following: Type a few words into a search engine, try to ignore the echoes, and see if there's anything to it. If not, say "There isn't anything to this". I understand the social process where one gets reputation-points for extremism, and can even lose for critical thinking. But we should be better than the geek version of talk-radio dittoheads.

Like this:


This shows that a TOS clause about "damage the name or reputation" is a common boilerplate, and has nothing to with AT&T trying to supposedly CENSOR CRITICISM. It took me around a minute to find that.

I used to think this sort wolf-crying needed to be affirmatively opposed because it reflected badly on net activism. Now I've come to believe I'm just not cut out for politics.


Verizon : Policies Prevent No One from Speaking Out about VZ

AT&T statement

Oh, and my message above eventually got rejected by the mailing-list's moderator]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on October 01, 2007 11:37 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Actually if you use either of the following search strings the boiler plate terminology used links to far fewer uses.

"damage or disparage the reputation of" + "or its Service(s)" -"AT&T"

"damage or disparage the reputation of" -"AT&T"

Though it does find this one -


"Disparage" seems to be far more broad a term than "damage." Damage involves some proof of loss of some sort. "Disparage" covers describing bad service or performance or some other poor aspect of some one or some thing. (I think the courts have determined that corporations have more equivalency to a "one" rather than a "thing" in terms of situations like insult. :P)

True, "disparage" probably means using words like "bad" service, which could be objected to. I've seen that sort of argument used years ago by "bad" professors fighting against student rating systems. Maybe something like 10,000 people per 100,000 died while trying to get through to public services on the 911 system on Telecom A while 12 died per 100,000 who tried to get the same 911 services through Telecom B. But Telecom A could not fairly be disparaged with words such as "bad."

Is a description of circumstances, situations, actions, etc. disparaging if true?

Is the widespread use of speech restricting clauses by utility companies that have government enabled and privileged use of national resources (public lands and broadcast spectrum) a basis for a lack of concern about such use?

Posted by: Amos Anan at October 1, 2007 01:21 PM


1) It's the basis for thinking this is not something being done as part of a campaign to squelch criticism.

2) It's also the basis for exercising a little restraint and thinking maybe, just maybe, there's more to the story than warrants immediately screaming wolf-Wolf-WOLF!

But this is why I am a Z-list blogger, and not an attention-rich BigHead :-(.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 1, 2007 01:29 PM

Well, what's "standard boilerplate" in one context, obviously takes on a whole different meaning in another.

I mean, if there were a non-delivery clause in something you ordered, that might be slightly less unnerving than similar language from an obstetrician handling your pregnant wife.

Posted by: Leo Klein at October 1, 2007 06:19 PM

Yes, but if you look at the search above, you'd see that clause is used often in the very context of ISP's or similar interactive services. This story has been spun as AT&T is sneaking in the option of shutting up anyone who would criticize it, which is nonsense.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 1, 2007 06:45 PM

There's nothing to see here, it's simply standard boilerplate that reiterates the law on slander and defamation. Truthful speech doesn't damage reputation by definition, it simply reinforces it.

There are lots of issues related to corporate misconduct in the world, but this isn't one of them.

Seth is right.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at October 2, 2007 07:09 PM

Sadly, I'm right but not popular(heard) :-(.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 3, 2007 07:57 PM

gotta love that VZ url:

blog blog blogs blog blogger

5 "blogs" in one URL!

Karl and Broadband Reports ran a followup story to clarify-- after all, AT&T is a *sponsor* of Broadband Reports.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at October 3, 2007 08:52 PM

And all that bloggy-ness didn't save them ...

Being sponsor - and remaining so - sure proves the point about not trying to stifle criticism!

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 3, 2007 09:44 PM