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    Legal Responsibilities of a Forum Owner

    Jurisdiction / State: Georgia

    I own and run a forum that is focussed on cheerleading. We have a large and passionate group of readers and posters, and have found ourselves to be quite influential in the industry. I wanted to find out what types of things I should be doing legally to protect myself in case someone had a bad experience at my forum.

    First, I have started an LLC and had them purchase everything for the forum. Does that even matter to protect myself personally?

    Because it is a cheerleading forum there is a large percentage of females on it, as well as minors. I have the rule of no one under 13, but because of the nature of the sport it would be possible for kids under the age of 13 to be reading. Is there anything I should be doing?

    We have recently had two people sign up and try to contact females for personal encounters. When the admins were informed the individuals were banned. Could I be held responsible if an encounter were to happen? What can I do to protect myself and other individuals? People on the board would 'like' to start a blacklist of those in our industry who are 'creepy' (can elaborate further if needed) or have been accused of possibly molesting minors. I feel like that can't go well.

    What else should I be doing or looking at?

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    jacksgal's Avatar
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    You need to have (if you do not have one already) a "terms of use". This will help protect you somewhat. You cannot be held accountable for encounters unless you have encouraged them.
    For non legal parenting help go to www.parentnook.com

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    I do have a terms of service. It is expanding as I find situations to not encourage.

    Ok, if someone posts some information that is not wanted to be public, but is true, can someone threaten to sue to have it down? Do I have to take it down if asked? Can they sue if its unfavorable BUT true? I have had a few business owners had some very unfavorable situations come out and be posted on my forum and they get upset. I just want to know what can be done by them and if I have to take down the information.

    I don't like to be bullied. If someone asks I am way more likely to take down the info.

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    jacksgal's Avatar
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    You (not others) make the rules. You cannot control what others post you can only remove it if called for. maing "truthful statements" is not actionable unless under a confidentiality agreement and possibly not even then.
    For non legal parenting help go to www.parentnook.com

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    thelawprofessor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kingston View Post
    I own and run a forum that is focussed on cheerleading. We have a large and passionate group of readers and posters, and have found ourselves to be quite influential in the industry. I wanted to find out what types of things I should be doing legally to protect myself in case someone had a bad experience at my forum....

    We have recently had two people sign up and try to contact females for personal encounters. When the admins were informed the individuals were banned. Could I be held responsible if an encounter were to happen? What can I do to protect myself and other individuals? People on the board would 'like' to start a blacklist of those in our industry who are 'creepy' (can elaborate further if needed) or have been accused of possibly molesting minors. I feel like that can't go well.

    What else should I be doing or looking at?
    1. You should create an "Acceptable Use Policy" (also known as an "AUP" for short) which governs the rules of conduct on your site. You should reference this in your Terms of Use and state that the AUP is part of the Terms of Use.

    2. I'm not pushing anyone to get a lawyer where they don't need one, but where sites are (a) getting large enough and (b) deal with sensitive issues including those concerning children and personal liberties and protection, it might be a good idea to invest in hiring an attorney who might be able to provide you with a full and complete TOU, AUP and disclaimers. Perhaps they can be limited to performing a full review your current site and policies and change or modify what needs to be changed. And as you've noted, because of the age issues, having an attorney review your site to make sure that you are in compliance with state and federal laws (e.g. whether it is possible that you know or should know that a "child" is a member on your site.) They may also be able to give you good advice on what you can and should be doing to protect yourself from liability or even the decreasing the possibility of a lawsuit (anyone can sue, whether justified is another question.)

    Keep up the great work!
    Forum posts are not legal advice, are for educational purposes only & are not substitutes for proper consultation with legal counsel.

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    thelawprofessor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kingston View Post
    I do have a terms of service. It is expanding as I find situations to not encourage.

    Ok, if someone posts some information that is not wanted to be public, but is true, can someone threaten to sue to have it down? Do I have to take it down if asked? Can they sue if its unfavorable BUT true? I have had a few business owners had some very unfavorable situations come out and be posted on my forum and they get upset. I just want to know what can be done by them and if I have to take down the information.

    I don't like to be bullied. If someone asks I am way more likely to take down the info.
    This is another question - it usually concerns "defamation." If something is true but unflattering, the business can threaten all they want but will most likely be unable to sue and win. If they do, they would need to find and use some legal right for which they can sue for a remedy. Unfortunately there are some businesses that don't ask politely and go right for the shotgun, hoping to intimidate. One can only wonder whether that is what caused them to have the problem in the first place.



    I can't tell you what to do as every situation is different. But you should use good common sense. If a poster is simply trying to harass another user that may have a competing business, even if true, you might wish to remove the post on the basis that it constitutes user harassment. (Simply because another poster's daughter may be a fat cheerleader doesn't mean that stating in a derogatory fashion is fine under your AUP.
    Forum posts are not legal advice, are for educational purposes only & are not substitutes for proper consultation with legal counsel.

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