You’re browsing a review site and notice that inflammatory comments have been posted. Do you have a right to edit or delete those comments? Will you be protected under the law? What about posters’ rights to free speech? According to our team of experts at Brand.com, reviews and comments on some user-submitted sites are protected by specific sections of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
If you’re confused about your rights in editing review sites, read on. Learn how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act applies to you and your business.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was generally enacted by Congress to protect children and young people from pornographic materials online.
Section 230 of the CDA specifically addresses the nature of information ownership by online users. The Section states that ‘no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’
Generally speaking, Section 230 protects website administrators from being held accountable for information posted by other users. The CDA is a federal initiative, which means that Section 230 trumps any state or local laws to the contrary.
Courts have asserted on multiple occasions that the law applies to a number of entities in addition to Internet service providers.
According to the reputation management pros at Brand.com, reviews of Section 230 indicate that bloggers can fall into two categories of protection. Bloggers can be considered both providers AND users of interactive computer services.
A blogger is a user if he or she established blogs and edits their content through the services of an Internet provider. A blogger is a provider when he or she allows another party to add comments or information to his or her blog.
Reader comments, guest blog posts, and information added to a website by an RSS feed are all considered ‘user-submitted’ content. Those who operate blogs or review sitesare not responsible for editing this content, and pursuing legal action against these individuals is usually a dead-end. As long as site owners never edit or remove comments or other postings, they are not legally responsible for acts of digital libel.
Section 230 does not apply if you seek and utilize data from a source outside of the Internet. However, when a blogger takes information from another blog or site, that blogger is most likely not liable for defamatory content.
The provision has been applied to protect numerous users from legal recourse for unfounded claims, including claims of negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, civil rights violations, and emotional distress.
The First Amendment protects speakers (and blog posters) from government censorship, not peer censorship. Site administrators have the right to edit or delete any post that they find objectionable. However, doing so could potentially cost the site its immunity from the libel and libel laws of the physical world.
According to Brand.com, review site comments are subject to manipulation by anyone and everyone. Remember that these comments are typically published anonymously, and that negative comments come from multiple sources.