Remembering Yahoo

Today I am starting an experiment by writing a number of posts called “Remembering”. I will start today and end on Friday, with some of the thoughts that were present in the creation of Negonation and which explain some of the reasons why we are building Tractis. Each day I will deal with a different company (Yahoo, eBay, Google, Kazaa/Skype) and its clashes with the physical world: events that are apparently isolated and unconnected but which say something about many people’s desire to make Internet an entity independent of governments, the concept of a traditional nation-state, and about who should regulate Internet and how.

Recalling things of the past can help us not to make the same mistakes.

Here we go…

In 2000, Marc Knobel, a French Jew, sued Yahoo for allowing the auction of neo-Nazi memorabilia in, such as SS daggers, concentration camp photos, copies of Mein Kampf, armbands with swastikas and replicas of Zyklon-B gas capsules. Because of its history, France has zero tolerance legislation with anything that smells of Nazism. Marc Knobel argued that, since French law banned racism in books, TV and radio, he saw no reason why the Internet was an exception. Therefore, Yahoo should restrict French citizens’ access to that content.

There was outcry and uproar: that is censorship, freedom of expression should be a priority, the state-nation is obsolete, and Internet (“cyberspace”) is outside the governments’ jurisdiction. Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo, felt not only protected but also powerful. Yahoo, which at that time was the star portal, was on top of the dotcom bubble: its shares were trading at 475 dollars. According to Yang, “we are not going to change the content of our sites in the United States just because someone in France is asking us to do so.” Even when the French judge investigating the case threatened to fine Yahoo 100,000 French francs (around 14,000 dollars) for each day the company exceeded the 1 February 2001 deadline, Yahoo was firm and defiant: no foreign government had anything to say to a US company, especially on the Internet.
However, on 1 January 2001, one month before the deadline, Yahoo withdrew all Nazi content. According to Sue Jackson, a Yahoo spokeswoman, the withdrawal had nothing to do with the French court’s ruling but with the fact that “society as a whole has rejected such groups (Nazis)“. Defenders of the Internet-nation did not know whether to take this as a defeat.

Tomorrow: eBay

By David Blanco
Saved in: Internet | 2 comments » | 18 September 2006

2 comments in “Remembering Yahoo”

[...] Do you remember Marc Knobel? After his victory against Yahoo in January 2001, he wasted no time in writing to eBay, asking why it allowed Nazi articles. eBay reacted promptly. In early May, not only did they ban trading of Nazi memorabilia but they also banned articles created by notorious murderers (letters, artwork, personal belongings) and novelty items (T-shirts bearing murderers’ names, crime scene photos, electric chairs, etc.). Did they do this to protect the community from the various regulations? Did they fear a lawsuit similar to that of Yahoo in the physical world? Or, did they establish themselves as judges of what can and cannot be traded? Questions, questions, questions… [...]

[...] Yahoo agreed to ban the auction of Nazi articles when a French judge threatened with fines. [...]

More posts in Negonation Blog