Here’s one I have not seen before. In the 911 blog, there is a story about a 16 year old kid who had a pipe bomb, flammable liquids and bomb making instructions. His mom found these things and turned him in to the police.
The story takes an interesting turn in the comment section. A reader who goes by the name ilikepiee claims to be the boy who was arrested. He admits that he is guilty and discusses his plans to blow something up just for fun, not to hurt anyone or destroy anything. It is just me, or does this bring up all sorts of strange legal issues?
First of all, there is no way to determine if ilikepiee is really the kid who is now, presumably, in juvenile hall. That fact alone should be a red flag for the comments to be deleted.
Let’s say it really is him. Clearly, this kid does not understand his Miranda rights. Any comments he makes on the SacBee website can be used as evidence against him. He is a minor, so his parents are legally responsible for his actions. Can his parents sue the SacBee for allowing their child to publicly incriminate himself? If ilikepiee is not the kid, can his parents sue the SacBee for allowing someone to impersonate their child? Their terms of service place the responsibility on the commenter, but the Bee has to have some measure of responsibility for things people post on their website.
Other newspapers are able to manage their comment sections by requiring commenters to register in a way that makes them traceable and identifiable. They do not post comments from people with pseudonyms. They delete comments that are off topic or do not contribute to the discussion. This oversight results in comment sections that improve the experience by letting people discuss the issue, add additional facts and bring personal insight. When the Bee does not care what people post in stories, the website get cluttered with garbage. Stories like this make me wonder if there will come a time when newspapers will be forced to be accountable for the public forum they provide.