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Scheer: Papers should edit online comments

Lawyer and journalist Peter Scheer, who is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, says that newspapers should edit the comment sections of their Web sites. He says there’s a misconception that if a newspaper moderates the comments, the paper will then become liable for what readers post.

    Section 230 of the act protects newspapers that operate their reader comments sections as a cesspool, permitting readers to post whatever they wish, no matter how libelous or harmful. Injured parties can sue the authors of those online comments, but not the newspaper. The newspaper is shielded, even if it has been given notice that statements in its comments section are false and it refuses to remove them.

    But newspapers are equally protected if they act responsibly, screening comments or editing them. The act was intended to overturn a court decision suggesting otherwise that had given news organizations a perverse incentive to refrain from editing user-generated comments.

Scheer’s piece was printed in the Chronicle.

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