NJ AG Investigates Gossip Site For Fraud
But no matter how insulting the posts are, some lawyers say that an investigation isn't likely to result in a successful lawsuit against the site. That's because the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes Web sites from lawsuits based on comments posted by users. "It sounds like a claim that should be pre-empted," said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.
What's more, he said, a vast number of sites say they prohibit users from posting offensive material. "Almost every user agreement has some restriction on offensive material, so if this becomes a bypass, it leaves everyone at risk of this sort of prosecutorial discretion."
Other courts have thrown out lawsuits in similar circumstances. For instance, in 2004, a federal appellate court dismissed a Muslim user's civil rights lawsuit against AOL on the ground that it couldn't be sued for user comments. In that case, AOL members allegedly posted messages denigrating Islam in two chatrooms, "Believes Islam" and "Koran." Even though those messages seemed to violate AOL's policy against hate speech, the court still tossed the lawsuit on the theory that the Communications Decency Act barred it.
But even without a lawsuit, the site potentially faces economic problems. AdBrite and Google both briefly served ads on the site in the past, but dropped the site for violating their terms of service. The Attorney General's office subpoenaed AdBrite, seeking information about how JuicyCampus.com described its business, and also wrote a letter to Google requesting information about its prior relationship with the site.
Typically, users who believe they have been defamed by a comment on a Web site can sue the person who made the post. But doing so requires users to obtain an IP address of the commenter -- data that many Web sites collect and store. But JuicyCampus.com says it doesn't keep any information that can be used to track individual users.