Legal advice re: section 230

  • #1
DaveC426913
Gold Member
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Wondering if anyone who has a passing understanding of the law would care to enlighten me about online libel law.


Section 230 protects 3rd party content-providers from the claims of their users.

What are implications upon an online community service whose /intent/ was to encourage members to "call out" offenders that could be identified?

A fictional example:

Think of a forum where users could post a complaint about a neighbourhood problem - say, a regular dog walker who never picked up after his dog. Members could be capable of providing enough information about the offense, the location, and the offender so as to be able to identify him. However, the incident (on Tuesday your dog pooped on my lawn) is not proveable as truthful.

Would the community provider be protected?

Would the members be subject to libel lawsuits even though the claims are essentially unsubstantiatable eyewitness claims?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Evo
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Yeah, I've read that the poster of the event can be held liable, but it would be difficult unless there were specifics.
 
  • #3
I do not know the specific laws or any of the case law though, as far as the liability of the community provider goes, I would imagine it falls under the principle of "good faith". The community provider assumes that any information posted is factual and that members will not abuse the forum.

I could see an argument the other way though.

Imagine instead a forum that encourages users to share the sexual proclivities and inadequacies of their exes. I could see a lawyer making a rather compelling argument that the host has provided a forum that is "ripe for abuse" considering the typical mind frame of jilted lovers and angry exes and their likely motivations for posting in such a forum. Then question whether the site really serves any legitimate community interest other than being a forum for embarrassing others and lead back into whether or not it was reasonably foreseeable that abuse would be prevalent.

The same argument could likely be made for your example though it would probably be more difficult. Likely one would focus in on the likelihood that such a site would create a tool for "running people out of town" via the internet.
 
  • #4
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Kill all the lawyers. Well good old Shakespere and King Henry had it right there.

It's become simply too easy to take idiotic legal action against someone, i've seen lawsuits that are clearly filed at the expense of common sense.

Or just add the word allegedly at the end of every sentence. They can't sue then, allegedly.
 
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  • #5
MATLABdude
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[...]Imagine instead a forum that encourages users to share the sexual proclivities and inadequacies of their exes. I could see a lawyer making a rather compelling argument that the host has provided a forum that is "ripe for abuse" considering the typical mind frame of jilted lovers and angry exes and their likely motivations for posting in such a forum. Then question whether the site really serves any legitimate community interest other than being a forum for embarrassing others and lead back into whether or not it was reasonably foreseeable that abuse would be prevalent.[...]
I recently became aware of just such a site. The obligatory ex-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-relative (or thereabouts) had been featured as a multi-timing lout, undeserving of his SO (who also seemed to keep on going back to him, go figure).

Full of the cattiness, jealousy, name-calling and probable textbook cyber-bullying that you'd expect from such a site and its target demographic. Somewhat disturbingly, it was international in scope...
 
  • #6
I recently became aware of just such a site. The obligatory ex-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-relative (or thereabouts) had been featured as a multi-timing lout, undeserving of his SO (who also seemed to keep on going back to him, go figure).

Full of the cattiness, jealousy, name-calling and probable textbook cyber-bullying that you'd expect from such a site and its target demographic. Somewhat disturbingly, it was international in scope...
Well it had to exist didn't it? I was actually inspired to the idea from a memory of the movie The Social Network.

I wonder what country they are based out of and how many times they have been sued.
 
  • #7
DaveC426913
Gold Member
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Someone has suggested I examine Rate My Doctor as a case study, which would seem to have virtually the same issues.

The only difference I see is that Section 230 provides protection [if the comments can be presumed by a reasonable person to be expressed as opinion as opposed to factual] (paraphrased).

Whereas, in Rate my Doctor, you would definitely be offering an opinion, a site such the the 'neighborhood spy' one I mentioned above is concentrating on claims of incidents.
 
  • #8
DaveC426913
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Or just add the word allegedly at the end of every sentence. They can't sue then, allegedly.
1] Section 230 protects the service provider because the content is coming from the users. However, if the SP edits the users' content enough, it can be deemed as new content, and the SP becomes liable.

2] The examples I read suggested that simply adding "in my opinion" does not necessarily protect a user.

So, unless the SP simply deletes any posts that don't contain the word allegedly, your suggestion won't be feasible.
 
  • #9
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So, unless the SP simply deletes any posts that don't contain the word allegedly, your suggestion won't be feasible.

It was a joke, allegedly.
 
  • #10
Containment
What type of libel are you talking about? One of the problems I think courts have with this is the fact that the two people in question could be living on opposite sides of the country or heck not even in the same country. So I can understand why these suits would fail... Imagine someone from the other side of the world sues you for libel and then you get a summons to show up in court for something that's normally going to go through small claims court.
 

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