‘Is talking about legal rights the new porn?’ Apple picks wrong fight by removing Lessig comment about Wi-Fi issue

Lessig.Tumblr.Com
Lessig.Tumblr.Com

Apple is messing with Lawrence Lessig’s ability to comment online, and I’m guessing that’s not going to end well.

“Is talking about legal rights the new porn?” he wrote on his blog.  As they say, them’s fighting words.  “When did it become inappropriate to inform people about legally protected rights related to technical issues?”

Lessig is among those iPhone users who have upgraded to iOS 7 and find their Wi-Fi feature doesn’t work.  He’s also among those who turned to Apple’s support message boards to seek a solution. And when Lessig re-posted a note written by someone else suggesting U.K. users exercise their consumer rights to return the device under warranty, Lessig’s post was removed.

“These posts are not allowed on our forums,” Apple wrote to Lessig in a private note, he says.

It is not clear why Apple wouldn’t allow posts with instructions on returning iPhones to retail stores, but one can make an educated guess: that would be bad business.

Comments are a touchy area for companies, of course.  A decade ago, who would expect a company to publish complaint letters, or tips about getting refunds, in a company magazine?  When firms open up their websites or Facebook pages to the world, they open themselves up to criticism in a new and frightening way. Many companies just don’t have the stomach for it.

It’s not quite  right to talk about comment removal as censorship. Companies own their servers, and own their content, and there is no First Amendment right for you and I to leave comments on their property.  The First Amendment is about government censorship, not about companies making decisions on their publications.

But this kind comment removal is against the very spirit of the Internet that Lessig helped create as founder of Creative Commons. His simple complaint towards Apple should be posted in the office at every company that manages comments and social media:

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“In the Sharing Economy that is the Internet, (comments are) free information donated to Apple,” he wrote. Most comments on the board come from volunteers offering technical support to other Apple users, which frees the company from having to deal with many frustrated consumers, “But when someone offers advice that tries to help people by telling them to exercise their rights, it gets purged? … So, hey #Apple, if you want the free help given by members of your community, treat them with respect. A simple — ‘thanks for the comments; we’re looking into it’ — would be a really cheap way to show respect.”

Read Lessig’s Tumblr-hosted comments here. See another analysis of the incident at ZDNet. 

And, he warned

About Bob Sullivan 1381 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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