Though readers of the State of NoVa may be well familiar with the online forum Fairfax Underground by now, it was back in the news this week for its role in uncovering the West Springfield High School sex scandal. So the editors asked me to take a deeper look at the site for a story in Saturday’s print edition, and you can see it here now.
But in addition to my interview with site creator Cary Wiedemann, conducted over a high dollar lunch at Willard’s BBQ in Chantilly, I also chatted with two Internet policy experts about how far these sites can go. In particular, we discussed the question of naming juveniles whose identities would otherwise be protected (that part was deleted for space reasons).
The Communications Decency Act of 1996, and Section 230 in particular, is the legal foundation for this issue. It clears Web hosts of responsibility for content posted by others, and it encourages the hosts to screen the content, noted Kevin Bankston of the Center for Democracy & Technology, and absolves them of liability for doing that. “Without that law,” Bankston said, ”you would see providers less willing to modify content” for fear of lawsuits, and thus less protection for children.
The law was designed to encourage free communication on the Internet, said Matt Zimmerman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The operators decide “what kind of communications to permit on their systems, and they’re off the hook legally, but it leaves them out there in the court of public opinion.”
So opine away: How free should such online discussions be? Should Wiedemann be monitoring every post and maintaining the same policies as the government and mainstream media? The full story is here.