In Pittsburgh, attorney Todd J. Hollis has filed a defamation suit against the funny little website called dontdatehimgirl.com. Apparently one or more of Hollis’s ex-girlfriends posted some nasty stuff about him on that website. [Fox News has reported on this as well as Techdirt.]
Mr. Hollis should have spent at least a few minutes researching well-established federal law before filing this lawsuit against the operator of the website. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, provides, in relevant part that “[n]o 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.”
The complained-of comments were provided by ex-girlfriends, not the website owner. Ergo, the website owner is not the publisher and cannot be liable for defamation here.
The Fox News account of the story states that Hollis claims that “the site does not have safeguards in place to ensure the truthfulness of items posted on it.”
Too bad. The site doesn’t have to. It’s been almost ten years since Ken Zeran made that same argument in the case of Zeran v. AOL, 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997). In that watershed case, the court, in finding AOL immune from liability for defamatory postings by a user of a forum board, observed that “[i]t would be impossible for service providers to screen each of their millions of postings for possible problems.”
And thus the wisdom of immunity under Section 230.