Future Liabilities to be aware of...

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Future Liabilities to be aware of...

Postby gmattson » Fri Jun 29, 2007 4:06 pm

Found this article most interesting. No question but those of us hosting websites and forums will soon be held accountable for what is said and posted. Not sure how I feel about this and not sure what actions I can take beyond those I've already instituted. GEM
(from castlecorp website:

By Gerald R. Smith,

In an article last month, I examined the law as it relates to liability for harms resulting from Internet activity and predicted that in the future the liability of service providers, hosts, forum administrators, and others might be increased. The article focused in part on a lawsuit against MySpace, Inc., filed by the parents of a minor who was sexually assaulted by a person she met on myspace.com.

In a somewhat related matter, MySpace recently agreed to provide the names of convicted sex offenders who register on the site. Link The release of these names has resulted in several arrests of sex offenders on probation or parole, including 7 in the state of Texas. Link The seven arrested in Texas included 6 who had gone to MySpace in violation of their conditions of parole or probation and 1 who had failed to register as a sex offender.

MySpace’s decision to release the names came after first denying requests from attorneys general of several states for the lists. MySpace relented when several states issued subpoenas. A question arises as to whether MySpace could have, or perhaps more importantly, should have prevailed if the decision had been made to contest the subpoenas. Probably in terms of offenders whose conditions of probation or parole included restrictions on Internet use, contact with minors, and similar matters, contesting the subpoenas would have failed. The legal issue with respect to those who had completed their probationary term or parole is a bit thornier. Lifelong sacrifice of privacy is arguably appropriate for sex offenders, particularly child molesters, but what is the limit? Moreover, conditions applied to specific instances of criminal conduct often become generally applicable. This phenomenon often results in restrictions that are both unreasonable and totally unrelated to a conviction, and more troubling, are often applied to people who have not been convicted of a crime. The basic question becomes, as it often does when issues of privacy and other freedoms are involved, where do we draw the line between protecting ourselves and sacrificing our freedoms?

Fueling the debate are some remarkable statistics produced by the district attorney in Tarrant County, Texas. Tarrant County includes Fort Worth and Arlington and has a population of about 1,700,000. A random sampling that included nearly 30% of the 2800 registered sex offenders residing in the county revealed that 9.4% had a MySpace page. The actual percentage would probably be considerably higher because the sampling revealed only those who had registered at MySpace with their real names and addresses. Link Why they would use their real names is a mystery, but it is often said that if law violators were intelligent, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, court staff, and others would soon become unemployed.

Other statistics released by the DA revealed how dangerous unsupervised visits to MySpace and similar sites can be for a child. One in five children have received a sexual solicitation or approach on the Internet in the past year, with 1 in 33 being an “aggressive solicitation.” One in four have been exposed to unwanted depictions of nudity or sexual conduct, and 1 in 17 have been threatened or harassed.

The scientific nature of the district attorney’s survey is open to question considering that nothing is said about the definition of the terms. Almost all of the terms used are highly subjective and it is not clear whether these terms were used in the survey or simply in the conclusion. Indeed, nothing at all is stated with respect to the methodology in collecting the data. The DA’s question about leaving a child alone in a room of 100 strangers when 10 of them are sex offenders casts doubt on both the subjectivity and methodology of the survey. Assuming that 10% of sex offenders have MySpace pages, that does not mean that 10% of MySpace users are sex offenders, the conclusion on which the “alone in a room of 100 strangers” analogy rests.

Regardless of the statistical validity of the survey, however, it does bolster the almost self-evident fact that MySpace and the rest of the Internet poses dangers for all, particularly unsupervised and trusting children. As I argued in last month’s article, leaving the matter solely to parents will often leave children without adequate protection. This becomes readily apparent when considering the DA’s story about warning a specific child’s parents about information on her MySpace page did not result in their action to correct the matter. It is incumbent upon us all to engage in publicity, education, and other means to make the Internet a safer place for children.
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Postby eric235u » Fri Jun 29, 2007 6:25 pm

...those of us hosting websites and forums will soon be held accountable for what is said and posted...

i'm no lawyer. nevertheless i am a free speech advocate and from the reading i've done do not think you really have anything to worry about. the log files on your server probably have plenty of info on everybody who visits this website (mine do). if somebody does something wrong it wouldn't be hard to track them down, espcially if they are a regular poster. kind of a who is but on the user. you can also have a disclaimer, such as 'anything said here is not endorsed by GEM' or what ever. you have mods to delete anything too crazy anyway. no real need for alarm.

my two cents. :)
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Postby eric235u » Fri Jun 29, 2007 6:33 pm

also, when i was a kid my father kept the computer next to the tv in the living room so he could see what you were doing. no law will function as well as an observant parent.

i guess we're up to four cents. :)
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Postby Panther » Sat Jun 30, 2007 3:22 am

I don't see any issues on these forums. Mainly adults, mainly mature. ;)

MySpace is/was a special case. They marketed to the youngsters and professed to be the safe place to connect with their peers. They instituted any form of "safe-guard" well after problems were known (and ignored) and for the longest time tried to disclaim any knowledge OR responsibility. Now, I'm a complete freedom/responsibility advocate, so this is a tough one for sure. However, I think in the case of MySpace, they could have handled things much better. Instead when they knew that predators were rampant, they took no action beyond mea culpa.... I'm not sure exactly what actions they should have taken, but just leaving vurnerable teens (and younger) hanging out as prey isn't one of them. That's why they got sued and that's why they lost. Just as the misreported MacDonald's Coffee incident. Mickey-D's had been warned multiple times by the authorities (court) to reduce the temperature that they were serving coffee at. When the woman got burned very severely (regardless of whether you think she was an idiot or not) the court awarded massive punative damages for knowingly ignoring a dangerous situation.

I've been on a number of forums through the years and know a number of hosts and moderators. Not one of them should be worried. MySpace was a child rape waiting to happen. (I know that, in the past, they've even blocked parents from monitoring their kid's pages to see what's going on citing their client's "privacy"... Even when the parent sent them proof that they were in fact the parent! I hope that policy has changed.) Sites like MySpace give forums and the internet a bad reputation just as much as any adult website has. At least with adult sites people know what they're getting.
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Postby Akil Todd Harvey » Fri Aug 31, 2007 11:00 am

People who are litigious will always have a reason to be...It's far easier to blame others than examine oneself (did i keep the internet in the kids bedroom or in the living room?) Did i let em close the door and never monitor the kids activities?

People who are afraid will always have reason to be afraid....

Remember what our media tells us.....be afriad, be very afraid, be always afraid and buy whatever they are advertising.....

Fear is the biggest emotion and we live in arguably one of the most complex human societies (thus, most folks could not possibly understand all of its complexities)...

and when it comes to fear mongering, under no circumstances are we more ready to accept the worst than under the context of our youth (whom we have never fought harder to protect them and to maintain their innocence).....one consequence of low bith rates is we are far more protective than we ever were (I would suggest it is also somewhat characteristic of a matriarchal societal organization, but that is another thread)....I think the old days and the old ways were along the lines of, "If it don't kill ya, it'll make ya stronger."

"MySpace was a child rape waiting to happen."

Myspace got more negative press than GW at a Peta convention (or a gathering of Katrina survivors)....

I used to host some web forums for about five years and i would be as concerned as GEM about these issues (of liability)....and of creating a safe environment for people to participate (I am for a violence free world, but not so naive to think it would ever be possible).....

Kudos to our esteemed moderators and forum HOST (GEM)....Tis mostly a thankless job (read volunteer).....
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