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Should operators of websites be held criminally responsible if users post death threats, notices of intent to commit crimes, instructions on how to build bombs, etc?

27 Comments
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No. It's like saying producers of paper should be held responsible if people write death threats on their paper. Websites create a platform that people can use to spread a message, they don't create the message.

Now that said, the web is a different medium than paper, in that it can be edited after the fact. If a posting is illegal in some way, then operators should have a responsibility to remove the posting after it has been made, under a clearly defined set of rules. If these rules are ignored, then the site owner/operator could be seen to have liability. But it's impossible to control everything that users may post on the provided platform.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Mmm, there's no 'It depends' button.....responsible for users posting illegal stuff, no; for leaving it up there once it's been brought to their attention, or for not monitoring their boards properly and in good faith (removing illegal stuff, not opinions they don't agree with or comments that don't take the conversation in the direction they want), yes.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

It depends, really. I voted No in general, but I think they should be held responsible in three cases:

As Cleo said above- for not removing the content and failing to monitor the board for clearly illegal activity. Second case, if they notice the threat, and remove it, but fail to notify the police. Third case, if the police gets involved, and they refuse to collaborate by providing user login data or other info which would help catch the perpetrator.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

operators should have a responsibility to remove the posting after it has been made, under a clearly defined set of rules.

Its a double-edged sword though. Those same rules and the privilege of editing and deletion will be abused for political purposes that will be just as deadly as anything individuals can publish on the web.

I would rather go with pure freedom of speech. It helps us identify the crazies. Shutting them up tends to do them a favor and allow them to fester underground until BOOM.

Anyway, death threats. How often are the words "I am going to kill you! uttered every day. How many deaths? How many arrests?

Bomb making plans. You still have to obtain the materials. And not blow yourself up assembling them. I think those two safeguards are enough to live with plans on the web.

Notices of intent to commit crimes? Oh come on! That is like a gift! You type back that all police will be on vacation that day!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I voted "Yes", but only because there is no middle option. I want to qualify it, though, by saying I only think they should be held accountable IF they keep the content up there and/or make no effort to contact authorities if the message is threatening violence. If something is put up but soon taking off by the site owners, and reported if necessary, then no.

-4 ( +4 / -7 )

Absolutely not. Erring in the direction of more freedom of speech is always the right path.

Besides, if these things are posted, the people who post them can be easily identified and arrested. What's the harm?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This is one of those "who watches the watchers" situations. If you're going to limit free speech on the Internet, who gets to limit it? The government? Corporations? Of course you can regulate your own site how you see fit: JT mods delete my comments all the time, and that's their prerogative, as it's THEIR website, and they get to decide what message is displayed on their medium. If I want, I can build my own website, with blackjack, and hookers, and promote my own message.

Censoring the internet is a VERY slippery slope, and as Pandabelle said, "Erring in the direction of freedom of speech is ALWAYS the right path." Once rights are taken away, it's difficult to regain them. So, No, absolutely not. Criminal liability for website owners is ludicrous and on freedom of speech (especially on the Internet) should not be infringed.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

There are a hell of lot of influences at work on private websites, such as sponsors and government, even if none of it is "official". If there is no freedom of speech on the private sites that make up the majority of the web, then there is no real freedom of speech.

You can put up a site on the web if you want, but who is going to look at it? Our information and thoughts are being controlled by various forces limiting speech on the web. And that is why I advocate protections that even private sites cannot dismiss.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I couldn't vote on this one. If I said yes, then it would mean that website owners would be criminally responsible if someone posts those things, even if the own removes it the moment they see it, which is stupid. But if I said no, it would mean owners who deliberately leave those things on their websites and just say 'hey, I didn't put it there" would get off scot-free.

Website owners should be criminally responsible only if they don't take the offending material down after being asked to by a relevant authority such as a court or law enforcement. By that I mean that there has to be a legal justification for the material's removal.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Tom, I have to disagree. If you force the owners of a website to allow messages/posts they don't agree with, their only recourse is to delete their entire website. If you own, for example, a website supporting Manchester United, and a troll logs on and posts all caps comments about how Arsenal is the best soccer team in all the land… why shouldn't moderators be allowed to delete inflammatory comments? People viewing the website support Manchester United, and they will not appreciate inflammatory comments. They may visit the site less frequently, or not at all, leading to less traffic, fewer sponsors, decreased revenue, and a website that nobody likes.

I do believe in protecting speech, but if someone is posting clearly inflammatory remarks for no reason except to illicit a response, they have no place in a discussion. A suitable online recourse is to simply delete their post, or to ban them from that discussion form. I don't see that as having my "thoughts controlled" by corporations.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Readers, please keep the discussion focused on a site's criminal responsibility for what users post.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do believe in protecting speech, but if someone is posting clearly inflammatory remarks for no reason except to illicit a response, they have no place in a discussion. A suitable online recourse is to simply delete their post, or to ban them from that discussion form

Even with potentially criminal content though (don't like the idea that words, pictures, video and music can be criminal though) there are other options, such as to require an extra click to make content visible, move the content to a log available to all of content deemed "inappropriate" or to simply flag the user as someone who posts offensive or potentially criminal content.

It sometimes seems that interest groups and lobbyists have a lot of secret influence. And that also applies to things that are borderline illegal that they want to be made clearly legal or illegal.

In fact, correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't this whole idea of holding websites criminally responsible for user's content born from some pretty rabid and unreasonable interest groups? There are some very paranoid people out there who somehow see grave dangers in internet and speech freedom.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

No....its impossible to keep constant tabs 24/7 on what someone puts on your site. Even with keyword filters etc. there is no way to keep on top of incoming material all of the time. Sites that actively encourage or facilitate those kinds of contributions are another story. Another way to look at it is if weapons and munitions manufacturers aren't held liable for the damage their products do in the hands of other people then why should a website owner be treated more harshly? But with the advent of 3D printing where the end result of information can be a tangible product, new ways of looking at what constitutes free speech will have to be considered. Currently, the issue of criminalizing the 3D printing of guns is being held up as a text book example of an infringement of free speech. So there clearly should be limits set as to what reasonably constitutes free speech.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Interesting question.

Should owners of a website be held accountable for what their posters post and what their moderators allow on to stay? Afterall, they can allow certain things to stay, remove responses which creates a purely anti-something discussion.

Promoting one side over another.

It's a very slippery route...

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The analogy would not be paper but a public message board hung somewhere. Making the operator responsible would enforce the monitoring of his website into a full time job for him which is not practical. So the answer is no.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't think the operators have a criminal responsibility, but they do have a moral responsibility. If the content is immoral it should be removed, either by the operator or by the watchdog agencies.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Well, not for posting, no-one can control that, but for not taking it down, yes. Tho again, if it is a small site with a small staff and they didn't notice something, there should be some leeway. But if they noticed, or someone sent a mail informing them something was posted, or if there are regular continued postings and they don't discipline/ kick off the troublemaker, then yes they should be held responsible.

I voted yes, but it's not a clear 100% yes.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

We hold TV and Radio liable to the same things and the internet is marginally different with essentially more channels to select from. I'm voting no because radio and TV have very few options where user created content can be shared on a mass scale so it can be easily regulated. The internet has too many people creating content and requiring all of it to be tested in reference to a site providers obligation would cripple the net.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The web site operators should be legally obliged to report it, yes, but not be blamed or held criminally responsible for the post. The person posting the comment should be held criminally responsible and face court for whatever part of the online criminal act they have breached. Its time people were held accountable for their own actions. Stop blaming the middle man.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

They have a responsibility to monitor and remove offensive material. If they refuse to remove the material and an event or situation occurs then they should be held accountable.

1 ( +1 / -1 )

What is the 'etc'? How about in the case of child porn? Is that covered by freedom of speech too? I voted yes because not all criminal acts should be covered by the right to freedom of speech.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Freedom of speech is a flag that some people like to wrap themselves in so they can basically do and say what they want with impunity.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Thunderbird,

Only someone from a country where freedom of speech is taken for granted could say something like that. You are protected and naive, imho.

Free speech is a basic right and sign of a free society.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If the content is immoral it should be removed, either by the operator or by the watchdog agencies.

Whose morals? You actually advocate watchdog agencies having the power to remove a third party's content based on their "morality"? Perhaps we could call them "commissars" instead of watchdogs?

Censors tend to be kooky and scary people we don't want or need censoring anybody. They tend to be power trippers with clear agendas (including money on the sly) that have little or nothing to do with protection of society. In fact, they don't even tend to be very intelligent.

An example: A video of "Candy shop" by 50 Cent available on youtube. One lyric goes: I'll let you lick the lollipop". Somebody actually cut out the word "lick"! As if some kid will figure out the suggestiveness of the lyrics for that word they use everyday in a typical everyday sentence!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I voted yes, but thinking on how websites owners/operators have the prerogative to eliminate illegal content, as it is done with piracy and illegal downloads.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Who makes these surveys?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No. Unless the American NSA contacts them and tells the website operators to remove the offending post (/sarcasm).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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