Newsaper sites should guard against abuse of Section 230

I’ve written before about the value of newspaper web sites trying to create community around profile/registration systems, and possibly even working toward requiring real identity.

Here’s another reason: Allowing unfettered anonymity could spur Congress to take away the protections of Section 230 for internet postings.

I thought of this while reading TechCrunch about JuicyCampus, a site that openly allows anonymous comments about fellow students. Naturally, the site is filling up with hate and bile.

Section 230 is important to our industry. It gives us a greater latitude in creating community than we would have without such protections. Losing that protection would be a serious blow to our audience growth prospects.

There are all kinds of sound journalistic reasons to run online communities in a responsible fashion. Protecting Section 230 is just another reason to set up communities that require some checks and balances.

Also, this recent post from Mark Potts is a very important round up of the key issues surrounding participation associated with news stories.  You can really learn all you need to know on this topic from that single post.

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  • http://www.recoveringjournalist.com Mark Potts

    Thanks, Howard. I was at a media-legal conference recently where a provacative and chilling question was asked: Would media companies actually benefit from a repeal of Section 230?

    The premise was that this would cripple Web companies that are so successful with online community by ending their freedom to operate those communities unfettered by libel or defamation laws–thus leveling the playing field for the more cautious media companies that haven’t been as smart about exploiting community and user interaction on the Web. It was a very interesting question, one that reflects the media company desire to turn back the clock to when all these nagging Web competitors weren’t there.

    In the end, of course, it’s a terrible idea, since media companies should be benefiting from the protections of Section 230 as well. But it definitely set the room abuzz!

  • http://newstracker.blogs.syracuse.com Brian Cubbison

    I have found that the mood of a forum or comments thread improves remarkably whenever an editor or reporter answers a question there, just as a blogger might respond to a comment in a blog. Leave people alone in a forum or comments thread and they turn on each other like Lord of the Flies. When they know a reasonable person is paying attention, they behave much better. Is it possible for journalists to play this role, perhaps even highlighting insightful comments, as any other blogger would, without making the company responsible for what goes unchecked?

  • http://fighting29th.com Rottenchester

    In communities where I participate, I’ve had members bring up Section 230 as a reason *not* to moderate comments. The reasoning is that the more our community acted like editors, the more we are like a publisher and less like a conduit for content generated by our commenters. I didn’t agree with their reasoning in the case of our community, but I thought it was an interesting take on Sec 230.

    Also, I think Brian has a good point. A little bit of genuine participation by reporters or editors would go a long way in the out-of-control forums I see at the local Gannett paper. That participation should be combined with judicious and transparent banning of the tiny percentage of the population who are trolls. The “oversight” model, where some junior staffer acts in the role of elementary school principal, just inflames trolls and does little to form a bond with thoughtful community participants.

  • http://www.collegemediainnovation.org/blog/2008/02/27/witt-covering-it-live-at-wemedia-2008/ Bryan Murley

    Howard,

    I was just reading the same techcrunch article this morning, after reading the New York Times article about juicycampus yesterday, and came to the same conclusion re: section 230.

    As I often tell people, S230 isn’t a constitutional right, it’s a congressional act, and one which can be repealed relatively easily. Were that to happen, there would be a heckuva lot of people lawyering up.

  • http://www.collegemediainnovation.org/blog/2008/02/27/witt-covering-it-live-at-wemedia-2008/ Bryan Murley

    Correction: the article I read was at washingtonpost.com, not nytimes.com.