Saturday, February 28, 2015
Wisconsin "Slender Man" case has to potential to raise Section 230 issues in civil action down the road (CNN)
Today, the “Legal Guys” on CNN (who appear every Saturday at noon), Avery Friedman (Cleveland) and Richard Herman (Las Vegas) raised a downstream liability issue. The details are than Friday, a defense attorney in Wisconsin argued that adult attempted murder charges against one of the two Wisconsin girls should be dropped because the girl sincerely believed she was defending her family against the Internet character “Slender Man”, so that charges could be filed in juvenile court. The Chicago Tribune has a story (with video) here. Friedman and Herman discussed the idea that with juvenile charges, the girls could be out of prison or custody by age 25 and lead a life. With adult charges, they face 60 years in prison. Although Wisconsin is socially liberal in some ways, it is a difficult state for defense attorneys.
The “Legal Guys” said that the creators of Slender Man could not have criminal responsibility. But Friedman thought that civil suits were possible against the content creators, although not against service providers (under Section 230). This comes from “Creepypasta” and “Something Awful” as explained in Gawker here. On the surface, it would sound as though, since Creepypasta accepts user-generated content, it would also be protected by Section 230. Friedman and Herman weren’t specific enough to mention this legal way out.
Again, this is an area where voluntary content labeling, which I discussed in some detail in recent posts (particularly on the COPA blog Feb. 26 (as an indirect result of my research after Blogger’s announced “porn ban” which it then rescinded) would be the systematic way to solve this problem.
I was not allowed to see horror films as a kid, and I recall being traumatized by the idea when growing up. Age suitability (relative to cognitive maturity) involves a lot of other matters besides nudity and pornography, but the systems we have now cause the public to incorrectly regard these concepts as equivalent.