In it, he linked to an article in the Brattleboro Reformer about the suit.
The gist is that someone said something about someone else in a comment on iBrattleboro, so iBratt is named in the libel suit, for allowing the comment on their site.
If you want the details of the drama, go read the article. My concern here is about the potential precedent it would set, and damage to our internet freedom it would cause, if iBrattleboro is found to have liability in this case.
iBrattleboro’s Chris Grotke and Lise LePage contend that they are not responsible for what is said in comments. From the article,
“Our policy is pretty clear that if anyone has any problem with anything put up there, they can contact us and we’ll take it down,” [Grotke] said. “In general, people have to stand by what they write. We can’t be the police for everybody in town. All we do is provide the platform for this communication.”
According to LePage, while original stories posted to the site are moderated, subsequent comments — like Dunn’s — are posted automatically and are not screened. Nevertheless, Grotke said, he and LePage “take it seriously” when contacted and have taken down offensive comments a number of times.
This is an area of law that is still developing and that is something we need to pay close attention to.
According to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, “Generally speaking, organizations that host blogs or provide Internet services have very broad immunity from liability under section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act — so broad, in fact, that a number of federal judges think the law should be changed.”
There are some out there who feel that site owners should be held responsible for what is said by others on their site. I disagree. The internet has led, and will continue to lead, to an expansion in our ability to participate in the public process, voice opinions that would otherwise go unheard, hold our public officials accountable, and cover news that the mainstream media is ignoring. If we start censoring content, we are moving in the wrong direction.
The woman who filed this suit could have posted comments in her own defense, started a website telling her side of the story and linked to it at iBrattleboro, or taken some other measure to defend her reputation on the internet, including contacting the owners of the site to have the comments removed.
That is the beauty of the internet – everyone has their say.
Once the lawmakers and judges start restricting our online freedoms of speech, we will begin to lose that which makes the internet so revolutionizing.
Update: The MSM (mainstream media) picked up on the bloggers’ reactions to the suit.
Here is an article from the Times Argus (in which I am quoted).
Here is an article from the Brattleboro Reformer. My favorite liberal Vermont blogger, Philip Baruth, from the Vermont Daily Briefing, is quoted in this one. He explains very succinctly exactly why this matters.
Philip Baruth, a University of Vermont English professor who is the sole writer for Vermont Daily Briefing, another blog, said the lawsuit stirs the fears and anxieties of bloggers who lack the resources to defend a costly libel suit.
“It’s a screwy issue,” he said. “Whether it’s Little League baseball or blogging, somebody eventually with a badly intended lawsuit can make it so expensive that a lot of the little guys have to drop out.”