When I started my ‘Come here, Assholes’ thread I was only interested in manners. Several users have stated, with some justification due to the nature of The Pit, that manners have no place here. While looking for a legal definition of ‘fighting words’ I chanced upon this site, (let’s see if I can get the link right this time) http://www.loundy.com/E-LAW/E-Law4-full.html#V (yeah, that’s it) where the subject is discussed at length as it relates to message boards and chat rooms.
Boy howdy, was it a revelation! It turns out that, not only is our ‘right of free speech’ resticted far more than some posters think, but it is restricted far more than I thought. And these restrictions have been tested in court, so, if push came to shove, we would lose.
The definition of defamation is far broader than we think. Putting it in writing, even in a chat room, just makes it worse by presuming premeditation. Some of the anti-religious postings dance on the border of ‘hate speech.’ ‘Fighting words’ could become a big poblem. I shudder to think what would happen if a lawyer for some corporation we burned stumbled on The Pit. I think the legal term for our resulting condition is ‘fucked.’
As operators of the SDMB, ‘The Straight Dope’ and The Reader might be protected under the ‘safe harbor’ provision. However, although they are not responsible for us being jerks they are providing the forum. Since the moderators seem to rarely moderate and sometimes participate enthusiastically I am not sure they are still protected. Even if they do not have a legal leg to stand on, anybody who wants to make a stink can still make those who run ‘The Dope’ miserable enough to get us shut down, and then sue us as individuals.
I do not believe that we need to fear regular posters. We know the ‘rules’ here and are unlikely to make trouble. However, this forum can be viewed by anybody with access to it. Any of the 270 million people in the US can sue us. Any one of the remaining six billion people on the planet can visit, be offended, and start an international incident.
This is a very real issue. We cannot blow it off by spouting rhetoric about ‘rights.’ Under United States law our rights are restricted. We also cannot hide behind ‘the truth.’ A person can go broke defending truthful statements. We really do have to watch our tongues. The whole world could be watching.