Never mind. I thought B&W was about to be closed down due to circumstances beyond my control.
Life is precarious you know. You never know when that piano is going to fall on your head.
You are not shutting down. Uh-uh, not happening.
And even if you were, ‘Bye. It was fun’ is just too girly, not to mention hurtful, if you’ve heard those words as often as I.
Is it about G? No problem, I know people. If he sets foot north of Darlington I can have him whacked.
Besides, we all know that last time there was a problem you offered up Karl’s innards to Cthulu to fix it. That can’t have been in vain.
Just don’t say stuff like that.
This is an alarming message, and we haven’t had you on Little Atoms yet!
Did I miss something?
No, it’s okay, I guess. I thought I was about to be evicted, that’s all. Thanks to G Tingey and his insistence on courting a libel suit.
Thanks for whack offer, Don.
Don´t you. ever. dare. to do that to us again! Do you realize how much anxiety you´ve put us through?
–end parent mode–
Glad it was a false alarm!
I guess I missed all the libel fun, what with work and all. Wha´ happened?
Well imagine the anxiety I’ve been through.
Wha’ happened is in comments on Snidery post.
I hope that there will be no more such trouble – though doubtless there will be, that being the nature of the beast that is the Internet. It is insane, though,that a third party´s libel could cause you so much trouble.
May I ask if the NS or the writer targeted by GT actually threatened action?
No. It’s simply a standing rule: the words lie, liar, lying, are off limits. Maybe most people know that instinctively, at least the kind of people who comment here; at any rate it’s not an issue in general, so there’s been no need to have the rule blazoned up anywhere – except for GT. I have told him, as I said, many times – but I perhaps haven’t told him explicitly and at length enough.
Mind you, I understand the temptation. JS had to train me not to use the word. There are times when one thinks ‘that’s not just rhetoric, it’s not just fuzziness, it’s not inadvertent, that’s deliberate’ – and one wants to say so. But, thanks to UK libel laws, one can’t. It’s a bad deal; it does interfere with free speech; but there it is.
Not that I’d ever go so far as to instantiate the clause on a comment here, but would “I think X is lying/ a liar” be acceptable? In the US, at least, expressing something as a personal opinion is an ironclad defense against libel.
“In the US, at least, expressing something as a personal opinion is an ironclad defense against libel.”
I don’t know the details of UK libel laws. But, in a sense, it misses the point. Even the *threat* of libel action would be deeply damaging for boring reasons I won’t detail.
The thing about all this is that it is highly unlikely that anybody will sue another person for their comments on a forum such as this.
But I have seen it happen; almost twenty years ago, when I first started messing around on bulletin boards – I think it was on CIX, a libel action kicked off just because of a casual remark somebody made (I’m pretty sure it never went the distance, though).
Also, I should say there’s no question here of closing down B&W. It’s just that because I have legal responsibility, it’s the one area where I have the final say (for as long as it is hosted on my server). Not that there is any disagreement between OB and myself, or that she isn’t perfectly capable of sorting out Mr T – it’s just that this morning I happened upon him repeating an accusation that OB had asked him not to make.
Glad to hear that you are still here.
“it’s just that this morning I happened upon him repeating an accusation that OB had asked him not to make.”
That was around 2 in the morning where I am. I was very asleep. No fair using the L word when I’m asleep!
And (she belatedly adds) don’t use it when I’m awake either.
An obvious thought…but have you considered moving B&W to US-based hosting? If this nerve-racking risk is due to some peculiarity in British law, switching seems an easy solution.
Naturally, people should behave themselves when asked, but it would probably be nice to have the assurance that the occasional problem child won’t be a threat to your whole enterprise.
Well I ain’t buyin’ it!
Surely a simple disclaimer along the lines of “The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.” would do the trick?
Otherwise, how does the Guardian, for instance, get away with it with their ‘Comment is Free’ feature?
I want answers, damnit..
OB: “That was around 2 in the morning where I am. I was very asleep.”
You don’t actually monitor B&W 24/7!
I’m…I’m…I don’t know…
To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, the UK has some of the strongest (ie most draconian) libel laws among western countries. It is said to be one reason “celebrities” lodge such cases in the UK; they are far more likely to win there than anywhere else.
The main problem with UK libel laws is that the balance of proof is shifted to the person accused of defamation (I suppose on the principle that if libelled one should not have to prove oneself innocent of the accusation). ‘Liar’ is a difficult one, since that would mean (say) GT would have to prove that the writer of the NS article had deliberately presented as fact things which he/she knew to be false – something which would be nearly impossible to do.
Of course, the flipside is that very large damages are relatively rare (though of course they happen). Courts tend not to award much in the way of punitive damages – even in the Demon case, where the libellous postings were (a) in the name of the litigant, (b) ‘damaging allegations of a personal nature’ against a person whose job was dependent upon maintaining public confidence, and (c) reposted multiple times elsewhere on the Internet, the final award was only GBP 10,000 (scarcely enough to retire on). The main financial impact on the loser in a libel case is usually the award of legal fees, but though these can cause the loser great suffering they are of no benefit to the plaintiff.
A notable aspect of the Demon case was that the ISP refused to remove a clearly libellous posting even when asked to do so by the subject of the libel. This is an important point, since in this case both Ophelia and Jerry are clearly ‘[taking] reasonable care to ensure such material [is] not published, and once alerted to a problem, [are taking] steps to resolve it.’ (This is the test as reported by the BBC.)
Given all the above, I think the real risks run by Jerry (and Ophelia) are slight; that said, I entirely empathise with their desire to steer clear of all danger, since I am sure neither has either the time or the inclination to battle a libel claim of any kind on behalf of a lazy comment on B&W.
For those interested, a reasonable summary of the law is here. Money quote: ‘The court [in the Demon case] found that although the defendants were not a publisher within the meaning of the 1996 Act, they were, however, publishers at common law as soon as they become aware of the defamatory content and failed to remove it.’
A detailed look at the case itself is here
Try not calling someone a liar unless you are confident you can prove it. That’d be a start. (Though since Jerry has said he doesn’t want anyone being callerd liars on the site at all, don’t you think that you could respect that? He makes the site possible – it seems, well, impolite to jeopardize it on a whim.)
As to the comparison with Pharyngula, that’s apples and oranges. Jerry has pointed out that B&W is hosted in England and he lives there – meaning the site comes under the very badly framed British law (see the links I posted above). PZ and Pharingula are both US based and are thus better-protected: although PZ could be sued for libel, the ISP is explicitly protected. As such any risks he runs are his own… Finally, Seed has lawers and is not afraid to use them, whereas I suspect that Jerry does not have his own in-house legal team:)
I don’t want to get into this too much, since the specifics of my situation are not of general interest.
But, very briefly, legally speaking, I am half of The Philosophers’ Magazine. The server is owned by TPM. We are a publisher. Publishers have contracts with distributors, etc. These contracts specify certain requirements in the event that TPM is even *threatened* with legal action for libel, defamation, etc. That’s the problem.
That’s good to know, Jerry – it makes it clear that your caution is indeed justified.
Might I suggest that you draft some kind of brief explanation of your legal position (and the reasons you have for needing to be so cautious) and place it somewhere on the site? That way, when commenters (understandably) get irked at being censored or asked to self-censor they can be referred to that explanation. I’m sure that GT (in this instance) did not want to cause trouble but simply could not believe that there was any real need for concern. Just a thought.
Anyway, all the best.
No, I don’t think there’s any need for JS to do that. As I mentioned yesterday, there’s not generally a problem.
And G Tingey, as for you –
“My apologies, I did not realise it was that bad.”
What do you mean you didn’t realize it was that bad?! I told you not to call people liars every time you did it, and deleted the words, and told you what a pain it is having to do that – did you think I was just saying that for fun? Who do you think you are, and what do you think this is? It’s not Hyde Park you know! How about having a tiny modicum of manners and just fucking doing what you’re told!
“There must be some way around/under/through this impasse, but at the moment I cannot see it.
Over to all of you for helpful suggestions.”
No suggestions. No way around or under or through, no need for you to see anything, no impasse. Just do what you’re told or else piss off.
In a very slightly calmer tone –
Look, GT, I told you on Monday that your comment was libellous and that you were not to call people liars and that I had told you that before – and you promptly did it again, while I was not around to remove it. You trashed my day by doing that. Don’t argue; don’t look for solutions. It’s not your decision to make.
Someone less libertarian than me would suggest banning GT entirely – he only says the same thing every time anyway…oh, you’ll probably delete that in case he can prove that he doesn’t. Damn.