The other day I received an email from a winery owner. Let’s call him/ her “Bob.” Good name. Anyhow, Bob complained about some comments on a post about him/ her and his/ her winery and asked that they be taken down. I let Bob know that I’d look into it and let him/ her know, but that I also felt a duty to not censor our readers unnecessarily. S/he responded with what VA Wine Diva and I took as a veiled threat.
I know, right? Go suck an egg, Bob. But I’m really busy with work and this is just a hobby for us, so after cooling off I figured that the best course may be to just remove all the comments on posts about Bob’s winery and disable comments, because I’ll be damned if I’m taking down one of our awesomely written posts. This way Bob goes away and so does the problem, right? As luck would have it, I was complaining about this to someone who said “Did you know I’m an attorney? And this is a pet area of mine? Don’t remove those comments!” Really?! Do tell.
So, for those who were wondering about blogs, comments, and the First Amendment, here’s what I learned. We can moderate our comments for spam and foul language. Even though we are providing a forum with this site, we aren’t legally responsible for the comments that someone else leaves on our blog. However, if we edit your comments for content, or only publish those comments that we agree with – we’re legally on the hook for every comment on this site. Ain’t that a kick in the pants? So, in terms of legally covering our butts we have two options: the comments are totally open with no moderation except for spam and language (as they have been), or we delete all existing comments and shut down commenting on this site. Our readers and commenters are 90% of the fun of doing this (the other 10% is alcohol), so shutting down interaction is not an option. If you want to learn more, there’s a great blog post on wine blogs and First Amendment law here.
There you have it. I’ll leave you with some great ’90s thrash metal about censorship (Jordan, I bet you were a fan back in the day). Feel free to discuss in the comments, but please no guesses as to the identity of the winery and/or owner. I don’t need to poke that bear.
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