I really wanted to attend the Citizen Journalism Academy presented by the Society of Professional Journalists in Greensboro, NC today but after a hectic spring travel schedule I thought better of it and stayed home to visit with my family. Luckily local social media maven, Wayne Sutton’s (@WayneSutton on Twitter) been sending tweets with the commentary from the program.
One thing that caught my eye was a link to Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code (47 USC § 230) part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has some commentary on it. First the relevant part of the law:
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.” This federal law preempts any state laws to the contrary: “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.” The courts have repeatedly rejected attempts to limit the reach of Section 230 to “traditional” Internet service providers, instead treating many diverse entities as “interactive computer service providers.
What that means to bloggers:
Bloggers can be both a provider and a user of interactive computer services. Bloggers are users when they create and edit blogs through a service provider, and they are providers to the extent that they allow third parties to add comments or other material to their blogs.
Your readers’ comments, entries written by guest bloggers, tips sent by email, and information provided to you through an RSS feed would all likely be considered information provided by another content provider. This would mean that you would not be held liable for defamatory statements contained in it. However, if you selected the third-party information yourself, no court has ruled whether this information would be considered “provided” to you. One court has limited Section 230 immunity to situations in which the originator “furnished it to the provider or user under circumstances in which a reasonable person…would conclude that the information was provided for publication on the Internet….”
So if you are actively going out and gathering data on your own, then republishing it on your blog, we cannot guarantee that Section 230 would shield you from liability. But we believe that Section 230 should cover information a blogger has selected from other blogs or elsewhere on the Internet, since the originator provided the information for publication to the world. However, no court has ruled on this.
There’s more commentary on the site but unlike some laws that deal with electronic communications their have been numerous court decisions that have established precedent.
I think it’s a good practice for the “new media” to understand the legalities of all media. I also think it’s a good idea to understand the ethics that good journalist practice and that our spelled out by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics that boils down to four main themes.
- Seek Truth and Report It
- Minimize Harm
- Act Independently
- Be Accountable
I believe that Citizen Journalism has gained increased popularity as a result of the accountability factor, remember the Killian documents from Rathergate.
Anyhow, I am sorry I missed the conference especially since I am sitting here blogging and my wife went for a pedicure, quality time bah…