Monday, June 14, 2021

Should I Be Liable For What My Readers Say?

This may come as a hock to you, but I was sued for libel a few years ago. I do say some outrageous things from time to time. I also sometimes get my facts wrong, although I try to be accurate This lawsuit, however, was based on nothing I said. It was instead premised on some ugly anonymous comments posted by readers before I began moderating this blog. I understand that I am responsible for my own remarks, but should I be held liable for what others say?

Judge Anthony Beltrami said No. He based his decision on Section 230 of the strangely named Communications Decency Act [CDA]. That's a federal law designed to encourage online debate. It was the first definite ruling on a blogger's liability for comments by others in Pennsylvania.. Judge Beltrami's ruling was noticed in several prominent legal circles.  

Now there's a movement, mostly from conservatives, demanding the repeal of Section 230. What they apparently fail to realize is that they are shooting themselves in the foot. Without Section 230, Facebook and numerous group administrators would be held responsible for what others say. They would be forced to shut down. This blog would have to end as well. Even though I've been forced to play comment cop, Google would never agree to assume liability for my mistakes. 

I'd support a reform of Section 230, but not a repeal. To the extent we can do so, I think we need to encourage the free and open exchange of ideas. In fact, I only moderate this blog because of one person intent on preventing that free exchange. 

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that one person Donald Trump?

Anonymous said...

"This blog would have to end as well."

Its about time. Repeal!!!

Anonymous said...

I believe if a certain sector of the overlords in Congress would work in a bipartisan way to eliminate the blatant double standards imposed by media and big tech, the elimination of Section 230 would be moot. If your blog disappears due to the stubbornness of the TDS crowd;
So Be It.

Anonymous said...

REPEAL!!! Who are you kidding??? Start local and read the comment sections in the Morning Call and Express Times. OOOOOOHHHH!!!! That's right. They stopped them. As well as Yahoo News and numerous others. Now FOX, Newsmax..... they haven't. Wonder why.
"• Hydroxychloroquine works
• The Virus came from a Chinese lab
• Hunter Biden's laptop was real
• Lafayette Square was not cleared for a photo op
• The 'Russian Bounties' story was fake
• We did produce vaccines before the end of 2020, in record time
• Blue state lockdowns didn't work
• Schools should be opened
• Critical Race Theory is a disaster for our schools and our Country
• Our Southern Border security program was unprecedentedly successful"
the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Hoax, the George Zimmerman Hoax, and countless other hoaxes, CNNLOL was once again exposed (along with much of the fake media) for spreading yet another round of obvious lies in yet another effort to deliberately mislead those still stupid enough to tune in. This time, by falsely accusing former President Trump of using teargas to clear out protesters last year for a photo-op. Surprise-surprise, this proved to be yet another CNNLOL lie. (Lafayette Square was not cleared for a photo op )"
Trump responsible for AOCLOL grandmother not getting money. Funny. What did her family say??? But we need comments. Well, the left doesn't. Hurts too much.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

You are correct Bernie, 230 protects platforms from suits based on what users say. It is really a protection of free speech. Eliminating 230 will be a cover for big and small platforms to censure more. The judge ruled right.

Most social media would do well to abide by their guidelines that prohibits violence, child pornogrphy, illegal trade etc. They have now expanded that to censure what they consider politically incorrect speech. Which gives them way too much political power.

While the constitution limits government restrictions on free speech, with the power these media companies have, they have the ability to do the bidding of one party over another.

While I am against most government regulation, I think the large platforms should be considered utilities, that cannot discriminate when it comes to political speech.

Anonymous said...

No great loss if you or Facebook or Twitter go away. While I read you daily, and have a FB account, I understand you're one-sided editorialists with a particular political point of view. You pick and choose what appears. You're not some objective guardian of the public square. I'm cool with this. The marketplace will replace you in a hot second and freedom of speech will be preserved. Somehow, we're able to preserve the First Amendment and not yell fire in a crowded theater. If you can't manage the editorial responsibility you've assumed, you may leave the kitchen at any time. While I appreciate this blog, it's a commercial entity for Blogger/Google. I run a business that has no corner on special protections. Neither should you/Blogger/Google in the business that is this blog.

Anonymous said...

I really do wonder if message boards and chat rooms have had a negative effect on American politics, especially the lack of civility, the personal attacks and hardening of positions on either side of the spectrum.

No clue if it ever really could have been avoided - but the technology and means of communication we have now compared to 20 years ago has really made the consumption and distribution of lies, misinformation and dog whistle distractions really easy.

Open and free exchange of ideas is wonderful and frankly how this country continues to advance itself. I don't think YOU or your blog should be liable for what any individual says, but would be open to reforms and penalties on individuals who distribute malicious information online either intentionally or unintentionally. Would make people a little less likely to retweet/share/post "something they saw on the internet".

Anonymous said...

Can we know who sued you and doesn't like free speech?

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:23, I linked to Judge Beltrami's ruling and there you can see who sued.

Anonymous said...

CENSORSHIP is the biggest problem with places like Facebook, Google. The news you DON’T hear about, the opinions you DON’T get to consider, are actually what has done the most damage to America.
Yes, we are still getting Obama’s “fundamental change” to America, now through his spokesperson, Joe Biden. Any real effects, negative in particular, of these “changes” are mostly unknown and misunderstood by a public that lacks complete information, and often subjected to lies told with increasing frequency. Lies without any opportunity for rebuttal. Such does not make for a healthy society.

Anonymous said...

LOL. Figures. I should have known!

Anonymous said...

"In fact, I only moderate this blog because of one person intent on preventing that free exchange."

This doesn't make sense. How can a reader stop you or anyone else from from posting something? As near as I can tell, only you can do that--and you don't seem to be shy about it.

As Ross Perot used to say, this dog don't hunt.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"This doesn't make sense. How can a reader stop you or anyone else from from posting something? As near as I can tell, only you can do that--and you don't seem to be shy about it."

A reader can't stop me from posting anything. But I at one time allowed readers to post what they wanted as well. One reader upset by my criticism of Wolf's lockdown took it upon himself top litter the comments section with repetitive comments, leaving huge gaps at the end so that no one else could comment effectively. Hence I am forced to moderate.

Anonymous said...

"Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author."

If you control the content, you accept responsibility for that which you control. Period.

Anonymous said...

8:23am. Before I opened up Beltrami's opinion, I guessed three people: TM, JG and the Blog Mentor. My first guess was correct. Do you have any update on her? Still incarcerated up North?

Anonymous said...

Reply to BO at 10:03:

But your moderation only delays posting. It doesn't prevent posting unless you exercise censorship.

Anonymous said...

@5:56 - Whatever the hell you wrote - it was barely comprehensible drivel AND LOADED with irony. Just because you read/heard it on FOX, Newsmax, OAN or whatever "conservative" outlet you enjoy/fixated on doesn't make it any more accurate than CNNLOL. Those news outlets pander to dullards and easily manipulated individuals, which your ramblings illustrate perfectly. Seriously reassess your life, you have too much anger and hostility inside your soul.

Anonymous said...

The reasons one moderates are immaterial to the discussion of editorial moderation, or not.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why bloggers should be treated any differently than anyone else. What part of the law of defamation can't you accept?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I don't see why bloggers should be treated any differently than anyone else. What part of the law of defamation can't you accept?"

I agree. If you and I are in a room and I defame someone, the law would only hold me responsible. At the time I was sued, this blog was an Internet room ion which someone may have said something defamatory. At the time, my blog was unmoderated, meaning I had no control over what was posted. I did remove the comment when I saw it.

Now that I moderate, I believe I could be held responsible for what someone says unless I am entitled to a "fair report" defense. I tend to err on nopt publishing what I think is defamatory.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The reasons one moderates are immaterial to the discussion of editorial moderation, or not."

They are very material to me. I would prefer no moderation, and moderate only bc someone is intent on preventing free and open discussion by littering this blog with the same comment and leaving huge gaps at the end.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"But your moderation only delays posting. It doesn't prevent posting unless you exercise censorship."

And I do.

Anonymous said...

Bernie if your local blog goes away and the theft of services by public officials keeps up we will be going into the abyss of deficit. All the advertisment in the world will not make the Lehigh valley a destination place to live and grow.

Anonymous said...

You make it sound like the "fair report defense" would be the only one available to you if accused of defamation. I trust you know that's not the case--which is relevant when your thrust here is to ask whether you should be liable.

Anonymous said...

Why not? We have some of the finest warehouses in the nation!

Anonymous said...

I believe that opinion is opinion and should not hold you liable. On the other hand, a statement of fact! which is not signed by a person, ie anonymous, places you in a personally liable position. Perhaps the anonymous signatures have to go.

Anonymous said...

Any discussion of revising/repealing Section 230 of the CDA has to consider why that exception to potential legal liability was carved out while other forms of media, e.g., TV, newspapers, etc. do not enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

That tRump was pushing for libel laws should be a red flag to anyone interested in keeping our right to free speech. The idea is to make it to expensive to have an opposing opinion. This tactic worked well for people he cheated out of hard work and labor who he tied up with lawyer fees and court costs (so says his former lawyer Cohen).
Those looking to take away section 230 are not interested in the truth but in the suppression of it.

Anonymous said...

We broke-up the Bell System even though they didn't censor our phone calls.

OK, not a perfect analogy, but you know where I'm going here.

If FB, Twitter, et. al. want blanket protection from libel, that's fine (and probably necessary), but they then shouldn't be able to censor except in extreme cases like advocating violence, menacing minors, doxxing for the purpose of intimidation, etc.

It seems, though, they want it both ways.

BTW, if the person who sued you is who I think you're talking about, have you checked the public documents around the current suit against him? Interesting stuff lately...

Anonymous said...

Should you be liable? YES. Based on your latest censoring of posts saying so you are definitely responsible for what is on your blog. Plenty of witnesses will testify to that Jack!

Anonymous said...

Censorship goes on all around us in the technological era. All search engine censor in a way by controlling what adds you see, what articles you see, what opinions get presented to you as click bait to drive you to ads to sell products. Algorithms in Facebook, Instagram, you tube, and all other forms of social media group you and censor what you get to see. Political candidate censor what you get to hear and the facts you get to absorb. News media creates their own opinions and censor the facts they choose to give to you. The church limits what it thinks you should hear and see. It is all around us.

Even the crack pots who spew want you to be censored to only listen to their way of thinking.

Should you be held liable for what you wife, husband or kids say? Should you be held liable for what your extended friends say? Should you be held accountable for what your friends say and do? Should you be held accountable for what you politicians say? Should you be held accountable for people who you met once in your life? Should you be held accountable for what your social media contacts say and do? I guess for those that think that social media should be held accountable then they in turn should openly accept they individually get held accountable for the above.