This site was launched with the filing of a lawsuit, Lessig v. NYT. That suit claimed that the Times had tweaked an online headline to drive eyeballs to the story and hence ad revenue to the Times — thus, “clickbait.” It also claimed that the tweaked headline and lede were false and defamatory — thus, “defamation.” The lawsuit thus charged the Times with “clickbait defamation.”
Clickbait is at the core of the economy of the Internet, at least as it is today. It is not a business model to celebrate, despite its being a reality. Given that reality, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a title, and hence, a story, more compelling. But given the temptations of that reality, there’s an important reason for assuring that the clickbait doesn’t cross a line. Especially because headlines are often separated from stories — in Tweets, or other social media — and even when not separated, especially because they often stand for the story itself, as the link is never clicked, there is a stronger reason to police headlines in the digital age than in the days before digital advertising. There wasn’t much reason to exaggerate or titillate at least non-front-page stories when papers were just paper. Now there is every reason in the world.
In April, the Times changed the headline and lede of the story that triggered this case. In consequence, I withdrew the lawsuit. You can listen to the blow-by-blow in the first season of the podcast, “The Law, such as it is.” I will be publishing the text of that podcast, and other related writing soon.
I will keep the site alive as a resource to others facing similar struggles. I’m hopeful that it might develop into a more comprehensive and balanced resource. I don’t think the issues here are easy. But I don’t think we can ignore issues just because they’re hard.
You can see the original pages of the site by clicking the tabs above. I’ve kept the Help tab for anyone interested in developing these resources more completely. I’ve removed the Donate page.
I’m grateful for the help and support and friendship of so many over the 9 months of this ugly struggle — more than anyone can ever know.
July 1, 2020