SPEAK UP FOR FREE SPEECH

Protect your users' freedom of expression.

To gain the respect of users as a champion for their free speech, you need to do more than just allow users to express themselves on your platform or service—you need to affirmatively protect them from third-party attempts to force you to remove their content or reveal their identities. Earning a reputation as a defender of your users’ rights can be a valuable way to build trust with your current users and attract new ones.

GIVE USERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PROTECT THEIR ANONYMITY
Build your reputation for respecting anonymity by making sure your users have a chance to defend theirs. If you receive a demand to unmask an anonymous user, immediately notify her and let her know how she might challenge the demand. Give the user as much time as possible to do so before turning over her identifying information.
Case Study

Twitter Publicly Praised After Standing Up for Political Critics

In 2010 Twitter was applauded for standing up for two anonymous users who were frequent critics of Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett.

When Twitter received a subpoena from Pennsylvania prosecutors seeking the identities of the users, it notified the users and gave them a chance to object rather than immediately complying with the demand. The demand was withdrawn after the incident received substantial press coverage and the ACLU intervened. Twitter emerged as one of the heroes of the story for giving its users an opportunity to defend their anonymity.

DISCLOSE USER INFORMATION ONLY WHERE REQUIRED BY LAW
Demonstrate that your service is a privacy-protective one and reduce your compliance costs at the same time by resisting illegitimate demands for user information. Thoroughly review any demands for information, identify any that seem overbroad or otherwise questionable, and evaluate your options for pushing back. If you determine you must comply, provide only the information that you are required to disclose.
Case Study

Avvo Gets Rave Reviews for Protecting Anonymous Speech

Online lawyer-rating website Avvo was credited with a “landmark” win protecting “your right to anonymity” after it fought a demand to turn over information about a user who had posted a negative review.

Online lawyer-rating website Avvo was credited with a “landmark” win protecting “your right to anonymity” after it fought a demand to turn over information about a user who had posted a negative review. When Avvo received the demand, it contacted the reviewer, who provided information proving to Avvo’s satisfaction that the reviewer had been one of the lawyer’s clients. Avvo then challenged the demand in court, ultimately earning recognition for winning “a victory for anonymous commenters.

Case Study

Yelp Cheered for Winning Fight to Protect Identities of Reviewers

Yelp was cheered after it won a public battle to defend the identities of seven users who had been targeted for their reviews. The company went to court to challenge a subpoena from a Virginia-based carpet cleaning company demanding the identities of reviewers who posted negative reviews. Yelp fought the issue for nearly two years before winning in the Virginia Supreme Court, a moment hailed as “a victory for Yelp and its anonymous commenters.”

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