So excited to be today's @ZoomLawSchool guest lecturer! Today we'll be discussing Internet Law's greatest (and perhaps most infamous) mystery: The case of Ken Zeran v. America Online.
The origins of this case trace back to tragedy. We solemnly remember this past April 19th as the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. This horrible act of domestic terrorism resulted in the death of ~ 168 people, injuring 680 more.
Just six days after the bombing, in 1995, an advertisement appeared on the "Michigan Military Movement" AOL message board.

Posted by "KenZZ03," the ad boasted T-Shirts and other items with disgusting and tasteless OKC bombing slogans. Interested in purchasing? Just call Ken. Image
Specifically, the number listed was Ken Zeran's, a (struggling) Seattle artist who couldn't have been further from Oklahoma.

Some of Zeran's art here:
flickr.com/photos/scribbl…
Meanwhile, Zeran receiving random death threats and purchase orders for OKC bombing T-shirts:
So Zeran calls AOL
And it goes pretty well except not really Image
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma City Radio Station (KRXO) decides to broadcast the ad Image
upsetting all of Oklahoma
So Ken sues AOL
And ultimately loses because #Section230 says websites are not liable for third party content. Image
So who attacked Ken Zeran and Why? And why didn't AOL just remove the posts? Why defamation? Why not publicity rights (which might have gotten around 230)?

law.com/therecorder/si…
This just so happens to be my Internet Law white whale. I've been investigating Zeran's case since last fall.

And I have some theories.... Image
(my advisor @ericgoldman thinks I'm crazy)
Some think it was an ex lover Image
Some think it was a bad business deal (there were other ads, allegedly by Zeran, for computer parts...) Image
Some even think it was purely just a random attack by a random troll with a random purpose
But none of those theories really hold ground (at least imo). There are too many unanswered questions and missing facts.

For example, why was it posted to the Michigan Military Movement board? Who is the MMM and what was their involvement?
Well, I contacted one of the founding members of the MMM. And got nowhere: Image
I sent letters to Zeran, called his new phone numbers, I even got a copy of his mortgage statement just to verify he's still living in Seattle (he is):

No dice.
He did give a talk at my law school years ago...You can read his own comments here: kennethzeran.com/zeran_sec_230_…
But I couldn't help this weird gut feeling...

Here you got a guy, living in his parent's basement, with an unsuccessful art business, tons of business debt, and a little bit of an ego problem... Image
And as a former (ok current) Internet troll and certified Troll Scout myself, I can say with certainty that trolls don't just act randomly...the payload is in the reaction, the discovery of your trollish acts... Image
So maybe a troll attacked Ken

maybe KRXO attacked Ken

maybe AOL attacked Ken

maybe we all attacked Ken
or maybe

just maybe Image
Regardless, this case demonstrates content moderation's impossible challenge. Trolling is nothing but a chaotic art. And the line between free expression and chilling removal is not so bright. #Section230

If you have any insight into this case, please reach out!
Bonus memes that didn't make it into this thread: ImageImage

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More from @jess_miers

6 Oct
Sigh. #ELI5 Section 230:

#Section230 requires you to sue the right person.
Starting with a basic example: If I Tweet something false about you, Section 230 requires that you sue me, not Twitter.

This outcome makes sense. Twitter isn't the author of the false Tweet, I am.
But that's not how it works offline! (you might be thinking). We sue newspapers all the time for the defamatory articles they choose to publish! They're even liable for the articles they don't author!

You're right to be confused. At a distance, this doesn't make sense.
Read 19 tweets
17 Sep
Of all the people he's attacked, I'm the only one who actually works for Google. I understand my ties to big tech may undermine my credibility. But ATOTD, like my colleagues, my #Section230 advocacy has always been rooted in my deep commitment to free speech and the Internet.
I became a legal scholar on #Section230 before Google, TechFreedom, or any other role I've had in this industry. My passion for preserving one of the greatest innovations for worldwide human communication is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Not my paycheck.
I joined Google not because I felt strongly about defending big tech but because I knew that I wanted to make serious, meaningful impact on the way we (the users) feel about the Internet.

I knew that as a junior scholar, that impact could only be made by joining the big leagues.
Read 6 tweets
1 Sep
Comments regarding the NTIA's #Section230 petition are due. Given the conflict with my role @ Google, I am not submitting official comments. But, as someone deeply passionate about the Internet, I can't help but offer some personal opinions (thread).
ntia.gov/files/ntia/pub…
I'll start with a couple reminders:
-184K dead Americans from COVID-19
-racial injustice continues to plague our nation
-Kyle Rittenhouse MURDERED two people and both our president and the GOP refuse to condemn his acts.
-the democratic process is being tampered with
I offer those reminders simply to point out that our country is suffering. WE are suffering. Our nation is at its absolute lowest point.

But rather than putting out these massive fires, our government is fanning the flames. #Section230 shouldn't be anywhere near top of mind.
Read 29 tweets
10 Jul
Random late-night #lawtwitter thread: I'm often asked by incoming law students how they can start to figure out what field of law they're interested in so they can hit the ground running as soon as their 1L year starts. This is a fantastic Q.
You don't need to know exactly what it is you want to do day 1 of law school. That's impossible. You won't quite know what all your options are and there's just so much to learn.

But having an idea of what you might want to study/practice does have some awesome advantages.
For starters, you can tailor your informational interviews and networking experiences towards your interests and get more direction on how to pursue your "dream" career early on.

Also, people notice when you're passionate about something. You'll stand-out among your peers.
Read 11 tweets
28 May
If you've ever wondered why Internet companies don't follow their own rules, this is it. The one time Twitter attempts to elevate social discourse by experimenting with moderation that goes outside the binary leave up/takedown scheme, it's met with an #executiveorder.
Before #Section230, we had the "moderator's dilemma." Services could attempt to moderate in an effort to promote a healthier/friendlier environment. But they would do so at the risk of legal liability for any content that slipped through the cracks.
On the other hand, they could choose not to moderate, avoid any legal liability, and accept their resulting anti-social, garbage-filled cesspools. #Section230 made it so that they wouldn't have to choose between legal liability and trolls.
Read 12 tweets
26 Jan
We reached a much needed breakthrough with today's session, starting w/an engineer's bold statement: "data scraping is NEVER illegal." With that, a chain reaction was set off. Sarcastic laughter from the law students followed by quick retorts by business/engineering students...
We weren't frustrated because of the lack of definite answers, we were frustrated because our lanes were crossing. We so badly wanted everyone to keep to their place. The law students should speak about the law, the engineers code, and the businesspeople make money.
Everything was operating so smoothly up until the point an engineer, god forbid, decided to speak up about the law. It bothered us and you could see it. We laughed, rolled our eyes, stopped listening...what business does the coder have telling us how to do our job?
Read 13 tweets

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