Case Study: Wikipedia Search Engine Problem
A combination of careful Wikipedia editing, along with use of a subpoena to prove violation of a Judge’s orders were adequate to remove defamatory content.
Our client was defendant in a civil suit with a variety of allegations which they vigorously contested. The Judge had placed a modified gag order after a number of potentially prejudicial comments with nonpublic information were placed on local news reports by an unknown party. Similar, but not identical content had turned up on Wikipedia, and we were retained to clean the Wikipedia page, and work with counsel to attempt to prove the point of origination for the comments.
Wikipedia is a particularly difficult target for remediation, because it is given a very high degree of authority by search engines, so it always is very high in search rank against the title of any of it’s articles. Wikipedia also has a large body of arcane rules that dictate the acceptable methods for article modification. Finally, anyone can edit a Wikipedia article, and all moderation is in the hands of volunteers with unknown motivations.
Our approach was multidisciplinary. We created a reference copy of the page at the beginning of the process and provided it to counsel with timestamps. We then made a series of small but important corrections to remove the most obviously inaccurate and based information, and to set the stage for future corrections.
A well crafted subpoena is invaluable in removing and remediating defamatory online content
At that point, we helped counsel craft a nuanced subpoena for information regarding the identity of the person posting the defamatory information. This is a more important process than it may appear, since the target of the subpoena will only provide exactly what is requested. Asking the right questions in this process is the difference between getting enough information to form a provable identity and only getting circumstantial information.
With the subpoena production in hand, we used a variety of databases and research techniques to establish that the spouse of the plaintiff was responsible for the defamatory material, which was in violation of the Judge’s order. We were able to establish the time, place, and bandwidth used for each post as well. Counsel brought it to the Court, and the defendant was sanctioned.
With no further interference, we were able to remove the rest of the defamatory content. Our client prevailed in the litigation overall as well.