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Are Bloggers Liable From Lawsuits for Anonymous Comments?

Image: Orangejuiceblog.com

Reed Smith – by Dominique H. Pietz.

A Pennsylvania judge in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the defendant blogger was not liable for anonymous posts in the “comments” section of his website, despite his active moderation of these posts.

In Mezzacappa v. O’Hare (Docket No. C-48-CV-2014-4521), the plaintiff, a candidate for local office, argued that the defendant should be held liable for defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy for permitting allegedly defamatory third-party posts in the “comments” section of his blog. The plaintiff reasoned that because the defendant had the ability to, and often did, delete and disapprove of third-party comments, the comments that were allowed to stand were essentially “approved” by defendant.

The defendant argued he was protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C.A. § 230(c)), which holds that no provider of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of information provided by another “information content provider.” In this case, the defendant argued that an anonymous poster on his blog was an “information content provider” for purposes of the statute.

On March 31, Judge Anthony S. Beltrami sided with the defendant and ruled that, even if true, the plaintiff’s allegations described nothing more than the exercise of a “publisher’s traditional editorial functions,” which fell well within the purview of section 230. The court also noted that this case met all requirements for immunity under the applicable Third Circuit Test, which requires that (1) the defendant is a provider or user of an “interactive computer service”; (2) the asserted claims treat the defendant as the publisher or speaker of the information; and (3) the information is provided by another “information content provider.” Notably, this ruling unequivocally holds that an anonymous commenter constitutes an “internet content provider” under the Communications Decency Act.

As noted by the court, this ruling is part of a continuing trend wherein courts decline to limit the application of the Communications Decency Act’s immunity to large-scale interactive computer services.
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