Repealing Section 230 Would Harm Online Communities, Not Address Online Harassment

Posted by Patrick on October 1st, 2015 in Thinking

Online community professionals in the U.S. are quite fortunate, legally-speaking, as compared to our counterparts in other countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a big reason for this. It might be the most important law on the books that relates to our work. It discourages frivolous lawsuits and allows us to host critical speech of the powerful, without serious fear of a lawsuit.

The Delfi ruling is a reasonable example of what can happen without it. A large company, and a rich man, demanded that an Estonian news outlet remove not only comments that vaguely threatened violence, but also comments that referred to the man as a “bastard” or a “rascal.” Even after they removed the comments, the company and man further demanded damages and, when rebuffed, sued the news outlet. A 9 year legal battle ensued – and the news outlet lost.

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President Trump Just Made a Direct Threat to Online Communities

Posted by Patrick on July 27th, 2018 in Legal

President Trump made a pretty direct threat to online communities today.

Shadow banning (or global ignore), which is not an “illegal practice,” is when you allow someone to continue to use your community or platform, but dramatically reduce or completely eliminate their visibility to others. They post, but they receive limited or no response because no one is seeing their content. The hope is that they leave.

Most community and platform operators reserve this tool for particularly destructive users, and those who will not respect ordinary bans. Some, in my view, abuse it. And, within the industry, you’ll find disagreement on the ethics of deploying such a tool.

But regardless, it goes to the core of community management, and the ability to block people and content in the manner that you deem appropriate for the community that you are responsible for.

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The Biggest Blind Spot I Encounter in Community Professionals (and How to Fix It)

Posted by Patrick on October 22nd, 2015 in Managing the Community, Resources

As professionals, we are diverse. None of us has all the answers. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We have areas we are known for (fair or not). We have skills that people don’t know we have. We are always improving and growing.

There is one semi-persistent blind spot I encounter as I talk with community professionals. It’s not the ability to look at numbers and use them to make a decision. It’s not ROI. It’s not growing activity. It’s not scaling a community.

It’s the law. Specifically, the law as it relates to our profession. Even if you have a legal department to run things through – which many don’t – an understanding of the law empowers you to confidently take action and manage your community.

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U.S. Community Managers: Get to Know the Communications Decency and SPEECH Acts

Posted by Patrick on February 11th, 2013 in Managing the Community, Resources

The law of the land varies by the land. What might work in one country won’t work in another. Some countries are more strict, some less so. It is useful to know the laws that govern community management in your country.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily know the law backwards and forwards (that’s why we have lawyers, because it can be so complex), but a basic understanding of the protections you are provided under the law can go a long way to ensuring confidence in the decisions that you make for your community. In this post, I’d like to highlight two particular acts that community managers based in the United States should know about.

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Online Communities: Don’t Lose Your User Agreement in Court Like Zappos Did

Posted by Patrick on January 24th, 2013 in Managing the Community

Last January, shoe retailer announced that they had been the “victim of a cyber attack by a criminal” who had potentially gained access to the contact information of their 24 million plus customers, in addition to the last four digits of their credit card number and their “cryptographically scrambled” password. The database with credit card data and payment information was not breached.

As one might expect, lawsuits followed. Zappos attempted to force these lawsuits to arbitration, citing a clause in their user agreement. But they ran into a big problem. A federal court ruled that their user agreement – in effect, their contract with users – was invalid. Not just a portion of it, but the whole thing.

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Popular Community ScubaBoard Sued for Libel and How to Limit Libel Claims on Your Forums

Posted by Patrick on March 29th, 2010 in Interacting with Members, Managing the Community

Creative Commons License photo credit: kin0be

About a week ago, I found out that ScubaBoard, a highly popular and well established scuba diving community, had been sued for libel in Federal court. ScubaBoard is run by Pete Murray, an acquaintance of mine that I have known for at least a few years. Pete has been supportive of me and my endeavors, including his offering of advance praise for my book. So, for me, this is unfortunate news and I am supportive of Pete.

In order to properly cover this story here at, I decided to turn to my friend Jonathan Bailey for a guest post and a legally minded take on the issue. Jonathan runs CopyByte, a copyright consulting firm and authors Plagiarism Today, an incredibly useful site dealing with content theft, plagiarism and related subjects.

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Estonian News Outlet Held Liable for Reader Comments in Ruling Harmful to Online Communities

Posted by Patrick on June 29th, 2015 in Managing the Community
European Court of Human Rights Credit: James Russell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: James Russell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Delfi, a leading Estonian news organization, could be held liable for comments posted on its website by readers.

That, in itself, is a scary prospect for community professionals. But the judgment is even worse when you consider that Delfi’s comments weren’t a total free-for-all. They may not have had the greatest moderation strategy in the world – far from it – but they did have comment guidelines, a report comment function and a notice-and-takedown system in place. The day the aggrieved party reported the comments to them, they removed them.

However, the party wanted more than removal of the comments: they wanted financial compensation. When Delfi balked, a lawsuit was filed and, 9 years later, we arrive at this judgment. The Court not only placed the liability on Delfi, but was critical of the simple existence of anonymous comments and provided confusing guidance on how Delfi could have avoided liability; outside of not having comments at all.

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Georgia Supreme Court Overturns Restraining Order That Was Harmful to Online Communities

Posted by Patrick on April 6th, 2015 in Managing the Community

Just over two years ago, I wrote about a restraining order issued in the state of Georgia, which was harmful to online communities. The order was requested by author Linda Ellis and targeted at Matthew Chan. Chan is the creator of ExtortionLetterInfo, an online resource and community that discusses (and criticizes) settlement demand letters issued by copyright holders.

Ellis authored a poem, “The Dash,” and has a reputation for aggressively pursuing those who share it online. According to Chan’s interview with Ars Technica in 2013, he was contacted by someone that Ellis had threatened. Instead of paying Ellis, they opted to pay Chan to publicize the incident. He used his website to criticize Ellis.

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Engaging News Project: Newsroom Focused Ideas for Improving Online Discourse

Posted by Patrick on March 5th, 2015 in Resources

Engaging News ProjectI was on a call yesterday with Bassey Etim of The New York Times and David Williams of CNN. We were preparing for our conversation down at SXSW, walking through various talking points.

At one point, they mentioned research conducted by Talia Stroud, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Assistant Director of Research at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin. Specifically, the finding that changing the “like” button to read “respect” meant that it was clicked more.

In doing some reading of my own following the call, I found the Engaging News Project, which Ms. Stroud leads. The project is dedicated to providing “research-based techniques for engaging online audiences in commercially viable and democratically beneficial ways.” A lot of their efforts have been focused on mainstream media comment sections.

Though the organization’s ideas are presented through the lens of a newsroom, there is plenty of thought provoking insight for people who manage community in other areas. Have a look at the research section and subscribe to the project’s Twitter and Facebook pages for more constant updates – plenty of which are directly relevant to community work.

Online Community Onboarding

Posted by Patrick on June 30th, 2014 in Community Cultivation

OnboardingI recently asked what I could help you with. Brent Wilson of Whipp Media and Josh Barraza of The Exotic Pet Network both suggested that I discuss community member onboarding. Thank you for the response, Brent and Josh.

Onboarding has typically been used to describe the process of helping new employees at a company to pick up the skills and information they need to become solid contributors to an organization. Even though members aren’t your employees – far from it – the Wikipedia page for onboarding is a really interesting place to start.

Take a look at the onboarding model adapted from Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan. Even though it is meant for new employees, one can see how it could be readily applicable to an online community. Drawing from that model and the Wikipedia page, let’s walk through the conclusions that researchers have come to and how they apply to online communities.

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