Monday, September 08, 2014

Reviewing Section 230: moderation of comments, editing; also, look at hyperlinking and both libel and copyright

Since I moderate comments and sometimes have to wonder about a non-spam comment that I get that makes some kind of accusation, I’ll re-iterate some links about Section 230 (of the 1996 Telecommunications Act or “Communications Decency Act”), which to say that moderation of comments does not compromise Section 230 protection.

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s link is here. It’s important that a moderator could be liable for content that she or he adds if that new content is legally libelous. It's also a bit untested if a blogger (instead of a forum) actively solicited comments in an unbalanced matter.  Blogs with a low number of comments per post might not seem as neutral to some observers.
 “Beat Blogging” has a similar link here.  A posting by Tim Cushing in March 2014 on Section 230 reinforces this point here  and goes on to explain why Section 230 needs to survive the challenges that could come to it, most recently over the revenge porn and “involuntary porn” issues. 

A law firm correctly says that “editing comments” isn’t the same as moderating them, but then calls Section 230 instead Section 302 (a perturbation of digits?), link here

From what I see, forums and comments on blogs are treated the same, even though the practical effects on readers could differ.  

Here’s a 2010 case in Illinois involving Moline Dispatch, Gains v. Romkey, link by Eric Goldman here

There is some disagreement as to whether someone who posts a hyperlink to something containing defamation shares in the liability.  Ten years ago, some sites said that links could lead to liability.  A Forbes article suggests that usually the answer is no, or at least giving a hyperlink or reference in good faith (like a footnote in a term paper) reduces the risk. Eric Goldman explains in Forbes in a case involving Sheldon Adelson, here.  The credibility of the quotes source might matter. Poynter also added to this viewpoint in April 2014, here.  This also generally seems to be true in Canada and Britain, as evidenced by this case in British Columbia, here.   An important concept seems to be the "fair reporting" privilege.  Note that in comments, URL's often don't work directly but have to be copied by the user into a browser (like going to the library in the old days).  Whether that matters is untested, like a new gambit in a chess opening. 
There’s also some legal controversy in the (distinct) legal area of DMCA and copyright, and sites that link to infringing material, as when Reddit took down “The Fappening”, as explained in this story.)    Generally, this hasn’t been much of a problem.  Links to embedded videos don’t work if videos on YouTube are removed for infringement, but usually the linking site or blog is not disturbed.  

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