The Whirlpool community is (in my opinion) the single most knowledgeable community on consumer mobile and internet technologies in Australia – and, quite possibly, the world. This community is responsible for inspiring many of my ideas for applying various technologies to the sphere of education, such as my recent posting on the use of the GPS-enabled Nokia 6110 Navigator as a means of providing context to mobile content, (subsequently picked up by Stephen Downes here).
The thing about an online community such as Whirlpool is that it enables expertise to be shared between community members; and as such, both the good and the bad aspects of various issues, products, and entities are discussed. The ramifications of this case succeeding would be immense and disastrous – imagine a situation where edubloggers, for example, could not openly discuss the advantages of Web 2.0 tools vs Learning Management Systems, for fear of our provider (or organisation) being sued by
Blackboard an LMS company? 😀
The almost 200,000-strong community has already responded with discussions and donations to assist Whirlpool’s founder, Simon Wright, and is quickly becoming one of the most highly publicised articles on Digg, even attracting international commentary from Technorati’s most widely-read blogs.
Some commentary from The Age:
Dale Clapperton, chairman of the online users lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said 2Clix was using the law to silence its critics.
He said if Wright lost “it might mean the end of criticising companies’ products and services online”, as “any company will be able to demand that people’s criticisms of them be deleted off websites, and if they don’t comply they’ll sue”.
Amanda Stickley, a senior law lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, said if 2Clix won there would be severe consequences for website operators as they would have to be “very vigilant in checking material on the website and remove anything that could cause injury to someone’s business reputation”.
In a statement of claim filed with the Supreme Court of Queensland, 2Clix said the comments, published in two threads between between late last year and July this year, led it to sustain “a severe downturn in monthly sales”.
It specifically referenced more than 30 comments by Whirlpool users, many strongly advising people to avoid the software at all costs and complaining that advertised features were not actually available in the product.
One of the comments cited by 2Clix read: “The software became such a problem that we threw it out recently … We stuck with it for over two years but in the end the many hundreds of lost hours of work and high stress levels was not worth it.”
2Clix claimed the statements were both false and malicious, and said it contacted Whirlpool about the matter this year but Whirlpool refused to take the forum threads down.
The issue has ramifications for online teaching and learning in Australia. If open commentary and crititique becomes effectively banned online, the use of social web tools for reflection, discussion and evaluation would be severely compromised.