In light of some recent legal threats against the Mr. Money Mustache blog because of content that has appeared on this forum, I figured it is worth developing an official policy toward them. These will probably not be the last we receive.
Our primary goal here is upholding the rights of our users to all possible free speech within the bounds of the law. This does not mean anybody
can safely say anything
, because it is possible to cross the line and commit illegal acts of defamation, even online. Usually this involves false assertions of fact with malicious intent that create harm to others.
For example, "The XYZ Health Insurance company has systematically been sterilizing mothers so they cannot have any more babies, in order to reduce their claim costs", or "Jim J. Smith stole my wallet" could both be found libelous.
On the other hand, a verifiable statement of fact or an obvious opinion that does not assert provable or disprovable facts are always permitted and not the ground for legal requests. "The Arizona Star ran this story about the XYZ company allegedly sterilizing mothers", "Kiss Trust has sent a legal threat to this blog", or "Jim is an asshole" are all safe.
You can read more about the laws here: https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/defamation
If you are an individual or company hoping to remove defamatory statements made on this forum, you should take the following steps.
1: Chill Out.
Realize that this is just one tiny forum and the Internet is a big place. You have walked into a bar and overheard a conversation you don't like between strangers. Would you really pick a fight? If the answer is still yes, move on to the next step.
2. Consider the Consequences.
attempts to suppress speech, no matter how carefully done, always results in that speech being amplified around the Internet. The reason? Because people don't like to be silenced, and most Internet users consider any form of suppression to be immoral. It doesn't matter if you're right or wrong, this is just human nature. They call it the Streisand Effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
3. If you are still convinced a forum user is making defamatory statements against you, consider taking it up with the forum user. Contradict their malicious facts with your own peaceful and intelligent counter-response. If you do this reasonably, they will change their mind, or at least be made to look like an idiot, while your new position will be considered the correct one. Mission accomplished.
4. If you still
insist that certain information must be removed from the Internet, flag the post, and provide information on who you are and why this information harms you. The moderators will consider it for removal or editing. If it is obviously problematic, they may at their discretion take one of these actions. But the offending text will be replaced with a note that said you requested it and your identity may be revealed. There are no secret deletions here - we keep all actions open.
5. If you decide you need to take legal action against a forum participant, flag a post and inform the moderator. All forum participants will be notified of your action. File the appropriate lawsuit and get a judge to order this site to disclose the IP address of the participant. Although we will probably defend against the suit with our own law firm, we will comply willingly with the law. To keep things open and in the public eye, all action of this type will be described on the main blog.
Be warned that this will not be a clandestine affair, as legal actions against blogs and forums tend to get a lot of publicity. Here's one about this very blog in Techdirt at the time of writing: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140313/07405826562/company-fires-off-legal-threats-to-site-owner-over-third-party-forum-post-self-inflicted-damage-ensues.shtml
I cannot urge you strongly enough to look to collaboration and open discussion to solve your problems - trust me, this is far better public relations and it is what all successful companies do these days.
That's all there is to it!Notes on threatening the blog owner (aka Mr. Money Mustache) for comments in this forum:
Website owners are never responsible for defamatory content posted by others - each user has their own responsibility. So there is no point threatening me, unless you just want me to write about your threat. See this description of the "Section 230" provisions protecting website owners: https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/230Notes on threatening me for things that I actually wrote:
I will review your request with a team of first amendment lawyers to make sure we aren't breaking any defamation laws. If we are, I will gladly change it and offer you my apologies (in public if you like) - I do not want to break the law. Either way, I will probably need to make your request public as part of my policy of keeping information free.
If a lawsuit is submitted and my team determines is without merit, they have been instructed not to settle, and to proceed through discovery and trial if necessary. I will keep the public well-documented on the progress of any legal actions.
While this approach is more expensive, it allows cases like this to be brought into the public eye. I have chosen to take this path because this is one of the few blogs which has become large enough to afford to defend itself rather than settling out of fear. Part of this is made possible by over 20 attorneys on the new MMM legal team who have been generous enough to provide research, advice, and litigation either for free or at discounted rates, and I am eternally grateful for these folks for joining the cause of free speech.