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  1. #1
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    Apr 2009
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    3

    Question Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    If I'm interpreting this correctly, then section 230 protects the owner of a forum site if a member of that site speaks about another user.

    e.g. Member of the forum asks if a service provider, in this case a person, is running a scam and others on the forum say that the service is crappy, a ripoff, etc.

    Would the forum owner be liable for comments made by the posters in this instance? I'd guess that the posters are the ones who are responsible, not the site/owner, as the site is acting as a common carrier.

    Am I interpreting it right?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
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    3

    Question Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    My question involves defamation in the state of: California/USA

    I'm looking to find out at what point the owner of a forum becomes liable for content placed on that forum. I hope to get some thoughts on a few situations:

    1 - Someone posts a forum thread saying that a company is running a scam. Several people respond saying that they got ripped off and that they think it is a scam. Is the forum owner responsible if the discussion thread is left intact (no moderation)?
    2 - In the above example - if the forum moderators/admins/owners edit one or more posts that accuse the company of ripping them off, have they increased the likelyhood of responsibility?
    3 - In the above example again, if the company creates a fake account on the site (verifiable by IP) and pretends to be a satisfied customer of the company, and the site removed this post, but left all the others, is the site now responsible/liable for any possible statements made by the members?
    4 - If someone actually does post a libelous statement on a forum, is the forum responsible?

    Any thoughts?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    Toledo, OH
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    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    1) No. People are entitled to their opinion. If they genuinely feel they were ripped off and they talk about it, they're not doing anything illegal.

    2) No.

    3) No. The site owner has no duty to remove all posts simply because they've removed one post. Creating a fake account is usually grounds for delete and ban. At least, it is in the forums I own.

    4) No.

    As a general rule, forum authors are responsible for their own posts. A forum owner is not suddenly responsible for someone's opinion because s/he edited the post to correct a title or remove personally identifying information.

    Such is spelled out in the TOS of each site, such as the TOS for this forum.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
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    3

    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    Thanks Missy. Can others confirm this?

    So, it seems that anyone who is critiqued or even libeled on a forum can bluster, moan and groan to the moderators/admins, but the only people responsible are going to be those who post and criticize them?

  5. #5

    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    Yes, because those are the only people making the statements.

    Remember too that an OPINION, no matter how extreme, is NOT generally actionable. People are entitled to say that THEIR experience or impression of a person or company or whatever sucked bigtime. What they CAN'T do is make statements of fact that they know to be false, and even when people DO that, there's no point to pursue it unless actual damages can be shown.

  6. #6
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    Jan 2008
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    Toledo, OH
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    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    So, it seems that anyone who is critiqued or even libeled on a forum can bluster, moan and groan to the moderators/admins, but the only people responsible are going to be those who post and criticize them?
    Correct.

    And why should it be otherwise? If your neighbor is making racket at 3AM, you yell at your neighbor, you don't call his Mama about it.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    The case law on sec. 230 controls. As I had a link to some before, but the owner/administrator of a web site only generally has a legal duty to ban a person etc., IF thier actions are a continuing pattern of conduct that violtates the law or is defatco defamation.


    As a general example; A person continually says he is going to "get" another poster, "get" with emphasis added, the owner may be liable if the poster is permitted to remain and cause mental anguish to another?

    I don't know if CA has a comparable law, but pay a visit to a library, preferably a law library, find the United States Code Annotated, USCA.

    Look up

    TITLE 47 > CHAPTER 5 > SUBCHAPTER II > Part I > sec 230

    After it will be case law annotations, read some and see what I mean.

    230, despite it's facial language, is NOT an automatic total immunity statute for web owners.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Michigan
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    28,906

    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    I'm not sure that I agree with that. First, it's not the webmaster's responsibility to investigate claims of defamation. Joe smith says you're a convicted felon? How would the webmaster even know whether or not that's true?

    Also, webmasters aren't babysitters, responsible to detect and stop harassment. Looking at the annotations for 47 USCA *230,
    Quote Quoting Immunity
    Communications Decency Act provided immunity for Internet service provider (ISP), sued for inadequately policing muslim chat rooms to bar harassing and blasphemous speech, despite claim that chat rooms were public accommodation required by Civil Rights Act to be offered on nondiscriminatory basis, Act applied only to federal civil rights law, only conferred immunity over state negligence or defamation actions, and Act did not bar claims for injunctive relief.Noah v. AOL Time Warner, Inc., E.D.Va.2003, 261 F.Supp.2d 532, affirmed 2004 WL 602711.
    Thinking of a particular situation that arose here, I once had somebody complain that another user was posting coded messages that harassed and threatened him, and in the next breath tell me that he had been calling the other user's employer to complain about him. We get all kinds.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    Default Re: Who is Responsible - an Online Forum or Author of a Forum Post

    I understand that Aaron, I was just giving some general examples and also I did mention the case law controls.

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