Federal Judge Says Website Not Liable For Comments

From Online Media Daily, a small item about a libel case dismissed by a Southern District court U.S. District Court in Mississippi. The case involves a news website in Mississippi, which a former employee sued for libel when it posted an article about her arrest for cocaine possession and failed to moderate the comments below the article. The case was thrown out:

A federal court has dismissed news anchor Toni Miles’ claim that her former employer, Raycom Media’s WLOX-TV, committed “cyber libel” by allowing readers to post unfiltered comments about her. U.S. District Court Judge Louis Guirola, Jr. in the Southern District of Mississippi ruled that the federal Communications Decency Act immunized the news station from liability for readers’ posts.

“Persons who claim that they were harmed by a website’s publication of user-generated content may sue the third-party user who generated that content, but they may not sue the interactive computer service that enabled the third-party user to publish the content online,” Guirola wrote. “Thus, an interactive computer service is entitled to immunity as long as it did not create or author the particular information at issue.”

As law professor Eric Goldman explains further on his blog, Miles alleged in court that the website “allowed unfiltered online comments which contained false information,” but since the editors did not either write or actively encourage these defamatory comments, they were not responsible.

Whether or not a lack of oversight of comment fields can get you sued, though, it can certainly make your site look junky. And those spammers keep getting sneakier. Just this morning, an old CJR post on TBD.com’s new dynamic map of the D.C. Metro prompted someone to write, “This is gonna have a long term impact on the transport system of the city…” before linking to a review of Acai Berries’ amazing health benefits. And another commenter really enjoyed a piece about press coverage of Apple, writing, “This is my first time i visit here. I discovered a lot of interesting things within your blog especially its discussion” before inviting the author to weigh in on the new Classic Sheepskin Ugg Boots sale going on NOW. Sigh, a Web editor’s work is never done.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner