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British Big Brother to Police Online Commercial Speech?

Times of London: Fake bloggers soon to be ‘named and shamed’. Hotels, restaurants and online shops that post glowing reviews about themselves under false identities could face criminal prosecution under new rules that come into force next year. Businesses which write fake blog entries or create whole wesbites purporting to be from customers will fall foul of a European directive banning them from “falsely representing oneself as a consumer”.

It’s a fine idea to name and shame. People who cheat this way deserve censure.

But criminal prosecution? That’s going way, way too far.

The British are turning so fast toward police state behavior these days — uber-surveillance and more — that something like this should be no surprise. Nonetheless, this over-reaction is worse than the offense.

5 Comments on “British Big Brother to Police Online Commercial Speech?”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Feb 12th, 2007 at 7:53 am

    Dan, I don’t know if “naming and shaming” would reach the average consumer (and if it wouldn’t, it probably wouldn’t be much of a deterrent since it wouldn’t hurt them in the wallet) but criminal prosecution does sound extreme. I would favor fining them (at a level that hurts), with the money going to the consumers in some way… D.

  2. #2 Robin Hamman
    on Feb 12th, 2007 at 7:57 am

    My read of the Times article seems to indicate that the law will come into force in the UK at the end of December BUT that it orginated as an EU directive which the UK is bound, by the EU treaty, to bring into domestic law.

  3. #3 Giles Field
    on Feb 13th, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Do we need legislation at all? It’s more likely that floggers will be exposed by the blogosphere’s innate built-in self-regulating features. First, rigorous and ongoing scrutiny by other bloggers and commenters – the fact that someone, somewhere out there will find them out, (like they did with Sony’s fake PSP2 blog, or Walmart’s bogus comments). Second, there is the inherent healthy scepticism that underpins the honesty and transparency that makes successful blogs.

  4. #4 Dan Gillmor
    on Feb 14th, 2007 at 11:53 am


    Yes, it’s an EU directive, but I don’t see other nations rushing to criminalize speech. Or am I msising something.

  5. #5 Seth Finkelstein
    on Feb 15th, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Dan, I don’t have the time to research this, but I suspect you’re being misled by a hype article. That is, I suspect they’re confusing potential but very unlikely criminal provisions – which exist elsewhere too – with the idea that criminal prosections are going to be run-of-the-mill.

    Analogy – it is *possible* to be hauled up on criminal charges for tax evasion. It’s not *common*, and most tax evasion cases are civil and only result in fines.