With more and more websites allowing user comments and cloaking the users’ identities with the excuse of catering to the “free speech online” concept, malicious gossip is freely posted by negative elements who are secure in the knowledge that they are safe in their anonymity.
Previously, there used to be a few sites that allowed user comments, such as AOL and Yahoo! The advantage they had was that, when someone subpoenaed the website host, they could get the person’s home address and full name. But that is not the case anymore. Now, most of these websites that allow comments either wipe them out or do not store the details necessary to track down visitors to their sites.
Several users suffer due to this, as malicious posts about them do the rounds which give their full name, attacking their integrity in several ways, such as calling them anorexic, a homosexual, or that they have sexual diseases etc. These things just cannot be shrugged off as this has an enormous effect on the reputation and the mental state of being of the person concerned.
There are very few legal means to compel websites to police message boards. The Communications Decency Act of 1996, has protected these websites from suits concerning user comments for many years now. Their stand is that such sites are similar to public parks and are not considered publications.
According to some lawmakers, these protections are too broad and they are now asking for changes in the law in order to address this growing problem. (more…)