Barred from posting online

No, not me.

Apparently a judge has barred a Seattle man from posting ANY comments to an online discussion group.

Judge Pro Tempore Marcine Anderson of the King County District Court issued a ruling last week restraining Scott Abraham from making or responding to postings on the Internet newsgroup rec.skiing.alpine either directly or indirectly, in person or through others.

Read about it for yourself at:

I know that the issue of free speech has been discussed here in relation to a privately owned and operated message board, but is this different? Are internet newsgroups a public forum?..and isn’t posting in them analogous with speaking on a street corner?

As is pointed out in comments in the article that I’ve provided in the link by an Internet law professor, the First Amendment is not an absolute right and it doesn’t protect defaming or harassing speech, however, does the ruling by the judge go too far by prohibiting any and all speech by a particular individual?

Comments? Discussion?

I think the judge is out of bounds and her ruling will be almost immediately overturned on appeal.

It’s one thing to say he can’t write any more harassing messages to those people. It’s another to say he can’t write any more messages in an entire public newsgroup.

So it is your understanding that newsgroups are *public[/] forums? That’s what I would think too, but do you know if there has been a legal precedent to confirm that?

I would tend to think of newsgroups as public forums, yes. Now, that doesn’t mean Internet providers are public, so if a provider chose, for example, not to allow a user to access a given newsgroup, that’s their choice. But then the user could go to a different provider and get it that way. This is also (obviously) different from privately-owned message boards or web pages.

I doubt anyone is going to disagree with the position everyone’s taken so far. I have one thing to say about that website, though…they REALLY need an editor! I’ve never seen so many typos in a place that was attempting to be intelligent in all my life.

Wouldn’t this be the equivalent of a judge barring someone from writing letters for the opinion page of a newspaper? The editor of the paper has the right to publish what he wants, but a judge does not have this right.

Please, people, do not ever post anything from I mean, just look at them. They’re ridiculous. They have high entertainment value, but no factual or scientific value as far as I’m concerned.

Oops, I didn’t mean to post so soon.

Anyway, disregarding the source, if it were true (which, given the source, I doubt) then I don’t think the judge has this right.

Well, I agree with you about the source, but it claims to be quoting a Seattle Times article (though there is no copyright notice on it). That said, certain parts seem to be, well, a bit off. For example, one line says:

No quotes – that’s just as it appears. So was the author of the piece involved with this? I don’t think so. I think it’s a screwup, but I doubt the Seattle Times would have made that big a mistake…

Not really. An editor can get a letter that he/she deems offensive and toss it in File 13, never to been seen again. He/she selects which letters will go into the paper.

When someone posts to a newsgroup, no one edits/nixes/prunes the text before it is “published.” Basicly, unless the poster is banned, they can post whatever they like until a moderator deletes it.

Thanks for the interesting discussion thus far. Some of the comments that have been made compel me to ask for clarification though…

Lissa makes reference to a “moderated” newsgroup and also mentions “banning” or deleting of posts.

So just to get it straight:

  • Internet Newsgroups are public domain and provide normally accepted free speech protections under the First Amendment…


  • Moderated Internet Newsgroups are public domain but provide for free speech only as long as the speech is approved of by the moderator, even possibly in disregard to the First Amendment…

Do I have this correct?

I’m not trying to be difficult and I want everyone (considering my sorted past) to realize that my interest in this and my points are not in any way veiled references to this site, because I understand the difference, but rather I’m trying to honestly sort this out in my mind.

No, this ban would be more like forbidding someone to talk in public with anyone. A clear violation of free speech. I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that ruling standing, if it’s true.

I’m not really sure where a moderated newsgroup would stand. I know that back in the FidoNet days, the moderators were considered to “own” the conference (even though it ran on computers around the world, none of which we necessarily owned). I suspect it’s a similar case here, tho I don’t know that a court has ever decided on it. My guess is that it wouldn’t necessarily be challenged as long as somebody else could go out and create their own conference if they didn’t like the other one. Kind of like a printing press. I can print whatever I want (well, almost) on my press – that doesn’t mean I have to let anybody else do so. But they can go get their own if they want.

As for this case, I agree with dhanson. A judge can put a restraining order on somebody and say, “You can’t talk to Jane Doe.” But s/he can’t say, “You can’t talk to anybody.” That’s what this judge has essentially done.

Well, the moderators or administrators have control over the central machine (or, in theory, someone does) and they have the right to determine what is and is not on that machine.

However, a newsgroup isn’t exactly a public forum. They are very, very different. That is why I think new laws have to be worked up for the internet, simply because it is not like any of the other information sources we have.

In this case, though, I would say that the moderators and such have the right to toss the guy off of their board, but the judge doesn’t.

They’re my thoughts, and you really shouldn’t care about them. I post here for my own benefit. You’d be surprised how writing out your thoughts helps clarify them. So, pay attention to whatever it pleases you to pay attention to. I really don’t care.

Thinking aloud here…

It might be interesting if someone challenged (in a legal sense) the censorship powers of a newsgroup moderator. Would the court rule that the moderators powers be limited to the policing of threats, libelous statements, profanity, etc… Or would the court go as far as to allow the moderator the power to ban and censor based upon whim?

Probably central to the issue would be the decision as to whether or not Internet Newsgroups are public domain…or not…

Connie, I bet Internet message boards that are the property of one company (that is, the company is providing you the access to say your piece) do not fall under the First Amendment. The SDMB provides us with the possibility to state our opinions here, just as a newspaper’s letters-to-the-editor columns provide you with the possibility to state your opinion there. However, if the newspaper fails to print your letters, or if the SDMB decides to censor you or even ban you from expressing your opinions, it’s their business. They’re a private company. Your only option is to convince the other readers of the newspaper that your letters to the editor are worthy of being read and to pressure that newspaper to print them on the grounds that you have something to say that their readers want to read.

You have nothing to say that I want to read.

Oh, by the way, a judge sure the hell has the right to issue a restraining order to prevent a person from harassing others. Trust me, it’s been done. You show up in a public street (well, maybe not in San Francisco) and start accosting people and harassing them and you will quickly be told not to do that and if you continue to do it, you will find a restraining order slapped on you and if you still continue to do it, you will find yourself in the county jail. I see no difference between the Internet and a public street.

Are you folks reading the same link that I am? The judge did not prohibit Abraham from posting to any newsgroup anywhere, just to that specific one.

The result may be the same–that the judge overstepped her authority.

However, is it possible that since the order is limited to a specific newgroup, it could be treated in the same way that barring a person from speaking at a specific location would? It is possible to get restraining orders to prohibit a person from persistently interrupting meetings at the local Kiwanis, VFW, or Community Church and those orders occasionally include the order to “stay away” if threats of violence have been made. Could this restraining order be viewed as the electronic equivalent?

I don’t know the answers, either, but I wonder if this is where Judge Anderson developed her opinion.

(Another aspect not mentioned in the article was whether this was a permanent order or an order with a specific expiration date.)


A most confused and hostile Lawrence posted:

Well duh! Ole Larry missed the boat. Sorry Larry, but you severely misunderstand just about everyting that I posted.

First of all, did you see the disclaimer? (published just for the benefit of people like you):

Krispy Original wrote:


Secondly, you totally misunderstand that the topic IS NOT Internet message boards (such as this one), rather the issue is Internet newsgroups…you do understand the difference right? You know…Usenet?..

Thirdly, (and I find this amusing) you write:

…when you have apparently OPENED a thread I authored and READ my posts therein…

Fourthly, you might appologize for flying off the handle at me…but that’s entirely up to you…

KO: I don’t think a court challenge on moderated newsgroups would go anywhere. I suspect, as Surgoshan noted, that it would be upheld because whoever is controlling the “main” computer is allowing the moderators to act for them.

But Tom brings up an interesting point that I had not thought of. It will be interesting to see what appeals courts have to say.