In an item on Poynter Online about the likely dismissal of a libel lawsuit against a website where a commenter posted allegedly libelous material, a staffer from the San Diego Union Tribune is quoted thusly:
While protection to ferret out the truth is nice, I kind of wish the courts or Congress would revisit this law. It bothers me to run content online that is clearly defamatory but to get to say it’s OK because we can’t get sued. It’s like a legal neener-neener.”
He should take the time to understand the law. The 1996 Communications Decency Act carved out a “safe harbor” for online sites that host conversations. The law said essentially that the speakers, not the sites, were responsible for what’s said as long as the site doesn’t edit or otherwise muck with what’s being said. The idea was to provide a robust place for discourse.
The analogy people often make is to the phone company. The telco isn’t liable for the contents of conversations even when criminals use phones to plan crimes.
There’s no neener-neener going on here. If the traditional media guy wants to force websites to monitor all postings for libel before letting them go online, he’s arguing for wiping out a fundamental value of the Net.