School Can't Handle Critical Community Message Board; Sends Legal Nastygram

from the and-the-message-board-folded dept

PopeHilarius writes in to alert us to an unfortunate situation. Apparently the private school Adelphi in Bay Ridge, New York, couldn't handle the fact that there was a Bay Ridge messageboard that had a critical thread about the school, including links to some news articles that were highly critical of the school.

Rather than respond to those claims, the school sent the messageboard owner a cease and desist letter, demanding the entire thread be removed. Tragically, the message board owner apparently was unfamiliar with Section 230 of the CDA and the rights of a service provider to resist such efforts, and just took down the whole thread. This is unfortunate, though, commenters on the thread appear to be reposting the same articles (and explaining section 230 to the board operator).

But, really, this is why lawyers still send bogus cease-and-desist letters: all too often they work. Having been on the receiving end of a few such letters, it's pretty damn scary to know you might get sued, and even if you know you're right, the whole concept of having to fight it can be scary (and expensive) unless you can find a good lawyer to represent you pro bono -- which isn't easy for many to do. It's legal bullying at its finest, but it works way too often. This is one reason, by the way, that we really could use a strong, federal, anti-SLAPP law, that would help sites understand that they can't be silenced just because someone doesn't like what they say, and gives those sites an easy, clear and inexpensive way to get any such cases dismissed quickly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    NullOp, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 5:00am

    Lawyers

    Yep, it's a lawyer-thing! Since the law has been specifically crafted to keep Joe Average from any real knowledge of the law lawyers have been bullying citizens. Few, if any, really want to go to court, however. If you are a business owner it's a very good idea to spend some time learning the law that applies to your business. Then you can "push back" when necessary.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 5:02am

    What about

    SLAPP?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 5:38am

    Without the full thread, we don't know if there was anything in there that was libelous. We don't know if there was anything exposed such as personal information or other.

    Another incomplete assignment, Mr Masnick.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 6:43am

      Re:

      Why would either of those scenarios change the story? Neither personal information posted or libelous comments would change the fact that the message board owner would be protected under section 230 of the CDA.

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 10:34am

      Re:

      Without the full thread, we don't know if there was anything in there that was libelous.

      This is absolutely true. We do not know that. But, under Section 230 that doesn't matter.

      We don't know if there was anything exposed such as personal information or other.

      Again, this is true, but again, under section 230 it does not matter -- and even if there were personal information, asking for the entire thread to be taken down goes beyond reasonable. Instead, the request could have just been for the individual information to be taken down.

      On the whole, I believe I covered the story fairly. If you have additional information, I would expect you to add it in the comments.

      Another incomplete assignment, Mr Masnick.

      Indeed. As is every post on this site. The whole point is that I write my opinions based on what is available, and I expect the conversation to continue in the comments, as those with more info add that info in the comments. I don't think that any story is ever complete, which is a good thing.

      Thanks for helping me highlight that point.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re:

        This is absolutely true. We do not know that. But, under Section 230 that doesn't matter.

        Incorrect - if the service provider is also actively posting on their message board, and actively editing posts, "230" protection could go out the window. For all we know, the objectionable posts were made by the site operators.

        Since you don't know, you cannot draw conclusions. It's too bad that many of your "discussions" here leave many of your following thinking they have the whole story.

         

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 2:20pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Incorrect - if the service provider is also actively posting on their message board, and actively editing posts, "230" protection could go out the window. For all we know, the objectionable posts were made by the site operators.

          Again, this does not matter. Various cases have involved even situations where a mailing list owner forwarded emails from someone else. In that case, they were specifically choosing which emails to forward to a mailing list... and still got Section 230 safe harbor protection.

          Again, I will note that if you have something relevant to add to the discussion, it would be great.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 3:03pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Various cases

            you mean a single case?

             

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              Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 3:56pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              you mean a single case?

              The email forwarding case was one case (a precedent setting one), but there have been other similar cases that effectively said the same thing.

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 8:51pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                So it was only a single case, rather than "various cases".

                legal opinion I got from someone who deals with online stuff all the time says that "230" doesn't always apply. He also suggested that things like T&C for board operators (on shared chat platforms, example) may mean that the board would get shut down or threads removed if they violate the T&C of hosting. There are plenty of angles.

                Without further information, it's a crap shoot to find out why. Mike, perhaps you might want to send some emails and ask, as opposed to just winging it?

                 

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                  Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 10:30pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  So it was only a single case, rather than "various cases".

                  No, various cases have made it clear that even if you are actively involved in the content you can still get Section 230 protections.

                  legal opinion I got from someone who deals with online stuff all the time says that "230" doesn't always apply. He also suggested that things like T&C for board operators (on shared chat platforms, example) may mean that the board would get shut down or threads removed if they violate the T&C of hosting. There are plenty of angles.

                  Ah. Well that's credible. And wrong.

                  Without further information, it's a crap shoot to find out why. Mike, perhaps you might want to send some emails and ask, as opposed to just winging it?

                  Heh. Again, you seem entirely misinformed about how this works. Do you have any additional info to add?

                   

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                  Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 11:25pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Another example:

                  http://www.winston.com/siteFiles/Publications/Facebook_Alert.html

                  Case dismissed against Facebook, even though Facebook takes ownership of the content. Section 230 protections are broad and this site had them, no matter how uninformed you might be about the law.

                   

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    Overcast (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 6:56am

    Sounds like they are making good use of 'educational dollars'. This would only further lead someone to believe that the school is inept.

     

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    RD, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 7:47am

    Another Complete Shilltard(tm)

    "Without the full thread, we don't know if there was anything in there that was libelous. We don't know if there was anything exposed such as personal information or other.

    Another incomplete assignment, Mr Masnick."

    And that matters how? Section 230 protects REGARDLESS of the type of comments made, that is its entire purpose.

    The only incomplete here is you, and your understanding of the law. Next time you want to take a jab at your betters to try to look superior, maybe you should consider actually knowing what you are talking about.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 8:10am

      Re: Another Complete Shilltard(tm)

      Section 230 applies, yet, but the owners of the chat board can still get summoned to show who the users are, etc. The costs of protecting themselves is still very, very high indeed.

      Also, we don't know the circumstances: Was the chat board run by one of the posters? Were the board owners / operators condoning the posts? Were they encouraging it?

      You don't know, I don't know, and as a result, it's another incomplete assignment and rant from Mr Masnick. Without the details, the story is entirely meaningless.

       

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        Luci, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 9:00am

        Re: Re: Another Complete Shilltard(tm)

        As usual the AC is apparently 'too good' to read anything that was linked within the article.

        Another incomplete attempt at trolling. Try again, or, rather... don't. We don't really care.

         

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        The Groove Tiger (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 2:34pm

        Re: Re: Another Complete Shilltard(tm)

        You didn't say anything about the brand of computer Mike uses to write his assignments.

        Tsk tdsk... another incomplete trolling from an AC.

         

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    Scott, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 11:45am

    Step 1: Send back cease and desist with the words Fuck you, sue me" written in large, bold, Sharpie
    Step 2: Enjoy nothing happening.

    Know your rights people and laws pertaining to what you do to a certain degree. Only a stupid lawyer that likes losing badly goes to the wall for something like this. Most lawyers in cases like this rely on your ignorance of the law for compliance and generally slink back to their holes when confronted with the exact opposite. Unless of course his/her ego gets the better of them. In that case spend a little to get a big fat settlement from his/her stupid ass.

     

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