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Is it riskier to moderate blog comments?


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August 27, 2005

Is it riskier to moderate blog comments?

Stephen Baker

As we've discussed and debated on this site, BW insists on moderating blog comments, in large part to shield the magazine from legal liability for hate or slander that could appear in that area. Now, as Dave Taylor reports, there's a suit against a blogger, Aaron Wall, over comments on his log. Taylor writes: "[If]you moderate, edit, or prune comments on your online forum -- or blog -- in any way at all then you stop being able to defend yourself as a common carrier and become a publisher who is, indeed, liable for the content that they publish."

So would be safer just to leave the comments open? To date, practically the only messages we've eliminated are thousands of spams.

UPDATE: Jeremy Pepper's post on this subject (from comments)

UPDATE: "I. F. Stoner" in comments points to AOL case that would appear to free sites from responsibility for slanderous comments they host.

09:51 AM

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? Blogger Sued For Defamation Over Comments from La Shawn Barber's Corner

Blogger Aaron Wall of SEOBook is being sued by company called Traffic Power for defamation and disclosing trade secrets. From The Blog Herald:

If successful the case has the potential to cause major upheaval in the blogosphere as comments would need ... [Read More]

Tracked on August 27, 2005 12:16 PM

? A blogger gets sued for his readers' comments from Blind Mind's Eye

Apparently, one of those scammer companies is now suing a blogger because of comments left on his blog by his readers. This brings to mind an obvious, ugly question. Is it safer to not moderate comments at all? I actually... [Read More]

Tracked on August 29, 2005 03:19 PM

Lawyers = Value Destroyers

Blog Comments = Value Generators

I bet they aren't having this problem in India and China.

Posted by: Dave Sunderhaft at August 27, 2005 10:29 AM

As anyone can sue anyone for anything, that "a suit has been brought against someone" is not really that significant. However, if we hear about people "winning" suits because of blog comment policies, then I think it's time for concern.

Posted by: rex hammock at August 27, 2005 11:18 AM

You can remove/alter comments safely by adding a disclaimer saying that any comments are permitted only because the site owner is letting you post, and that any comments will be removed for any reason at the absolute discretion of the site owner etc etc.

More tips can be found here

http://www.connectedinternet.co.uk/blog/_archives/2005/3/25/533241.html

Posted by: Connected at August 27, 2005 11:48 AM

I don't see the value in a moderated comment sections of a blog. In other words, I'm not going to moderate comments when I'm not being paid for it. As for spam, I'm using Yahoo 360 and there is a link for reporting abuse. Yahoo has the resources to deal with this sort of thing. I've had comments that I have posted on moderated blogs altered, deleted or not posted at all following submission. I'm not worried about it. Some of the stuff you write could be misleading, because you were misled or duped. That is not the same as an organized effort to defraud people.

I'm not very organized myself. I could do much better with an editor, but for now all I can do is what I can do. I guess it's a bit like a book. The thoughtful author thanks the editor and the publisher thanks the author with a share of the revenues. Adding to the worlds problems isn't going to be in demand. There is a big growing supply though. All you can do is the best you can and if it isn't good enough, the hell with it. The world is full of risks. You are free to ignore what you want to ignore. It's a free country.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at August 27, 2005 01:26 PM

Stephen, I think you just answered your own question.

I'm highly in favor of moderated/delayed posting of comments for a high traffic, high profile business blog.

You don't want comment spam flooding your blog, because it poses dangers to users and it looks horribly unprofessional.

We are impulse shoppers, instant gratification freaks here in America. If blog users/readers complain that their comments are not posted instantly, I say: tough. Get on with your life. You can wait 24-48 hours to see your precious, genius comment posted.

So I guess what I'm saying is: I suggest you continue with moderating and delayed posting. I'm no internet law expert, and there aren't many of them unless you're in Silicon Valley I suppose, but this is my advice from a business blog perspective.

A captcha device will weed out most if not all automated spam programs, or "spambots". Blogger has introduced this and I'm now using them at my blogs. My comment spam has dropped to nearly zero since I incorporated what Blogger calls "Word Verification" for all comments.

Posted by: steven streight aka vaspers the grate at August 27, 2005 02:39 PM

ISPs run spam blocking on email without stepping over the line so would moderating/deleting spam comments be the same or would it have to be an automated process like the ISPs?

Posted by: PXLated at August 27, 2005 02:42 PM

I just added this to my blog.

Disclaimer: I don't need you here.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at August 27, 2005 02:44 PM

This seems like a good way for the Dems to shut down the voices that destroyed them in the last election by circumventing their allies:the mainstream media. Would they ever try? Remember the "Hush rush Bill" -of course they would -it's the nature of the beast. And forget all about that free speach business, that's not really for you and me. It is well to remember that the MSM will be very cooperative to anything that erradicates or silences their competition

Posted by: DL at August 27, 2005 03:06 PM

Wow - I only interviewed a media attorney back in February about the same issue (http://pop-pr.blogspot.com/2005/02/blogs-and-libel-or-damn-nkk.html), and reposted it last week (http://pop-pr.blogspot.com/2005/08/libel-revisited.html). I love being that ahead of the curve, thinking about legality and lible issues in blogs.

Like I wrote back in February, libel suits would start coming at blogs. Looks like I was right.

As for moderated comments, I'd rather a blog go to no comments. When it takes 6 hours for a comment to appear on a blog, it becomes a joke. What I did notice, though, is "practically the only messages" - what have you deleted that wasn't SPAM?

Posted by: Jeremy Pepper at August 27, 2005 04:04 PM

I would go to your attorneys (and try to get them to be quoted). I'm no lawyer but... the only surviving part of the I-forget-the-initials-online-decency-act overturned the so-called Prodigy case, which held that you were worse off for trying to clean up interactivity if you missed something. The new law says you can clean up your space, it being yours, and not suffer if you miss something (because they didn't want people motivated not to even try cleaning up stuff). I could be getting this way wrong but it was my understanding that we who hosted interactivity became, in essence, common carriers who could not be held liable for what happened over our lines. But unlike them, we could maintain our spaces in our standards so as not to affect our brands. This was in re forums (or whatever they were called back then) but comments are merely another form of interactivity.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at August 27, 2005 06:46 PM

Traffic Power has been sending "cease and desist" letters to every blog and website that mentions their crummy business practices. Their suit is completely without merit, but it's easier just to delete the posts and comments rather than going through a time-wasting lawsuit, and I think that's what TP is counting on. Aaron himself seems inclined to just delete and move on rather than fight.

Posted by: Richard Masoner at August 27, 2005 11:59 PM

I just set up my blog today on blogger and had a comment. I thought wow someone actually read my blog. No it was just some spam about Mexico, so I deleted it. I don't think it is neccesary to keep them there, they are just useless.

Posted by: Joe at August 28, 2005 01:14 AM

This raises the need to encourage bloggers to have a clearly displayed commenting policy. Your comment policy should explain what happens when a user submits comments, what kinds of material are unacceptable, and that comments are not the opinions of the blogger and are an exercise in free speech and as such are not endorsed because the comments are allowed to remain.

Posted by: Michael Martine at August 28, 2005 10:02 AM

We've written about this extensively over the past few years... and the real answer is that you're *probably* fine for moderating comments, but it depends on a lot of different factors, including what district court you'd be in, what judge you get, and the specifics of your case.

I just wrote up a post about this particular situation that links to some of the relevant case law:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20050828/2223234_F.shtml

The most specific one being the ruling in the 9th Circuit saying that moderated lists (and, most believe by extension, moderated blog comments) don't incur liability for the content:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20030624/1929222.shtml

that case was appealed to the Supreme Court, who didn't take it:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20040609/1454229_F.shtml

Suggesting (maybe...) that they agree with the lower court ruling. On the other hand, they may just want more conflicting case law before taking the case.

Still, at the moment, you can almost certainly make a very credible case for why you can moderate comments and not be liable for libelous comments that others make on your blog.

Posted by: Mike Masnick at August 29, 2005 01:30 AM

Um, folks, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act makes a successful suit against a blogmeister almost impossible.

See Zeran v. AOL. Fact that it was a chat room is of no import. Blogs reproducing third-party content will be treated identically to chats.

Can I have $350 for that advice now?

Posted by: I.F. Stoner at August 29, 2005 01:13 PM

Stephen-

It's obvious what one does with spam.

However, I personally appreciate that you folks filter out abusive language. I like your blog a lot and wading through amateurish vulgarity would really diminish the experience for me. Probably there's a segment of your participants who would disagree with me, but there's just about always a way to express the same idea just as well but without the blue language.

As to the legal stuff, it makes me sad that we can't all just share a little conversation without the threat of legal action. I guess that's how it is.

Pete Z.

Posted by: Pete Zievers at August 30, 2005 12:44 PM


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