Lycos runs the Raging Bull stock discussion board site, which, if you've never been there, is a complete and total zoo. A publicly traded company sued Lycos claiming that it was responsible, under state and federal law, for comments left there by pseudonymous commenters allegedly defaming the plaintiff's stock. Lycos successfully moved to dismiss, arguing that it was immune to suit under the Communications Decency Act. The appeals court agreed, noting that:
Section 230 provides 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," 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1), and that "[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," id. § 230(e)(3).An "information content provider" is "any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service." 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(3).
Why does the ACS think that Lycos is like a blogger and the posters on Raging Bull like commenters? Obviously, if one looks at the Secret Blog, Lycos is like Google, which owns Blogger, provides our blogging software and hosts the site. I am like the Raging Bull commenters (hopefully, only functionally), and thus this decision stands for the proposition that Google is not responsible for any of my nonsense. [And for the first time in months, David C. Drummond breathes easy.] But does it stand for the proposition that I am not responsible for the maunderings of the Secretians?
The answer is that it does, and it doesn't. If Google is sued in the District of Massachusetts, which is part of the First Circuit, for something I say, it can bring forward this decision and argue that it is binding precedent that the District Court is compelled to accept. But if I am sued for something you people do, I have to make a slightly different argument. I have to argue that this is a persuasive precedent that the District Court should accept. I have to look at the First Circuit's reasoning and argue (here, a pretty simple argument) that the reasons for the First Circuit's decision also apply here and that this decision indicates that, if faced with the issue of holding a blogger responsible for the actions of a commenter, the First Circuit would surely decide for the blogger.
Based on this decision, we can say with some confidence that the First Circuit, or at least these three First Circuit judges, would rule for the blogger. We cannot say with absolute certainty that it would do so. For example, the court might hold that a blogger is different from Lycos because a blogger chooses the topics to be discussed and frames the discussion. The blogger is also somewhat responsible for the tone and tenor of his comment section. Is it, therefore, unfair to hold that the blogger is, in part, the "information content provider" responsible for the offending comment. I don't think that this argument is persuasive, given the First Circuit's decision, but I can't say that it is directly contradicted by that decision. Still, I agree with the American Constitution Society. This decision reaffirms that bloggers are not legally responsible for the comments left on their blog, by close but not exact analogy.