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I was wondering what is the responsibility of the site with regard to content posted by users that could potentially be defaming? This question was prompted by https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/29282/are-conferences-organized-by-iact-like-icke-fake I have no idea about that conference, but there is a basically a post on our site clearly associating this conference with fake ones. What would happen if the organisers would complain about it?

I'm assuming Ac.SE falls under US law, which I'm not particularly familiar with, and, to the best of my knowledge, this problem has not happened yet, but should we take precautionary measures?

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    I don't know how this applies to questions, but I did think it was part of the reason why we don't answer questions about a specific institution, journal, conference, professor, etc.
    – ff524
    Oct 1 '14 at 18:38
  • @ff524: I agree, but the content remains nonetheless (are duplicate questions deleted by default?)
    – user102
    Oct 1 '14 at 18:47
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Legal issues are handled by Stack Exchange, neither the community nor the moderators are typically qualified to judge the legal issues. Unless SE intervenes, there is usually no reason to try and enforce perceived legal issues.

Anyone having a legal complaint about a post on an SE site has to contact SE directly, and SE employees will handle the issue from there.

That said, the community is of course free to enact rules on this kind of question. If this kind of content is considered too problematic, or simply not a good fit for the site, it can be disallowed regardless of the legal situation.

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The reason we don't do questions asking for recommendations is that they're too subjective; we don't do questions about individual programs and institutions because they're too narrow in scope.

As for the issue of SE being held responsible for the content of its users, in general web sites have protections under the law from being responsible for such attacks, so long as they respond to them. Otherwise, it would be very easy for someone to maliciously get a website shut down.

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  • I'm completely fine with us not doing such questions, my question is whether we should delete them or simply close them?
    – user102
    Oct 2 '14 at 16:22
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I refer you to the following excerpt from the SE Network Terms of Service:

  1. Indemnity

Subscriber will indemnify and hold Stack Exchange, its directors, officers, employees, agents, consultants, contractors, partners, vendors and service providers (including, without limitation, hosting and telecommunications providers) harmless, including costs and attorneys' fees, from any claim or demand made by any third party due to or arising out of Subscriber’s access to the Network, use of the Services, the violation of this Agreement by Subscriber, or the infringement by Subscriber, or any third party using the Subscriber's account, of any intellectual property or other right of any person or entity.

  1. Limitation of liability

In no event shall Stack Exchange, its directors, officers, shareholders, employees, members, agents, consultants, contractors, partners, vendors and service providers (including, without limitation, hosting and telecommunications providers) be liable with respect to the Network or the Services for (a) any indirect, incidental, punitive, or consequential damages of any kind whatsoever; (b) damages for loss of use, profits, data, images, Subscriber Content or other intangibles; (c) damages for unauthorized use, non-performance of the Network, errors or omissions; or (d) damages related to downloading or posting Content. Stack Exchange's and the Network's collective liability under this agreement shall be limited to three hundred United States Dollars. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitations and exclusions may not apply to Subscriber.

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  • I had a look at the ToS, and I wasn't sure whether those terms are just protection of SE from the users (i.e., you can't basically complain if anything happens), but it's not clear to me that it protects SE from some users.
    – user102
    Oct 2 '14 at 16:21
  • @CharlesMorisset "Subscriber will indemnify ... from any claim or demand made by any third party due to or arising out of Subscriber’s access to the Network, use of the Services" says a user indemnifies SE from legal responsibility for any claim any third party makes related to the user's use of SE. Seems to apply to the scenario you describe.
    – ff524
    Oct 2 '14 at 20:17
  • This is an example of a highly broad indemnity term within an "adhesion contract". Such broad exclusion terms are often found to be invalid in legal cases, so you shouldn't necessarily take the legal implications of the clause at face value. As a general rule, you cannot exclude legal liability merely by stipulating that you are not liable.
    – Ben
    Aug 10 at 22:19
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Since SE has its own legal representatives, it might be useful for moderators to report posts of this kind directly to relevant SE personnel so that they can scrutinise the material and make a decision. Moderators can certainly take unilateral action under moderation policies, but they should not assume that SE staff will know about the post unless they draw it to their attention.

In terms of what could happen if defamatory material is posted, the person defamed could sue both SE and the poster for damages, and obviously they would have access to all the normal legal defences for such an action (e.g., truth, fair comment, etc.). (Courts have complex rules for "choice of law" that depend on factors including the location of the defamed, the places where the message was broadcast, etc., so it would not necessarily be a US action.) While the SE terms of service specify broad exclusions of liability, these types of exclusion clauses in an "adhesion contract" are often ruled invalid by courts, so even with the presence of a contractual term for use, there is legal danger in defamation on the site.

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    Mods don't have any responsibility to report these sorts of things. For a bunch of reasons mentioned in academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4762/… there is a policy against many of the questions that might be an issue for this sort of thing. It's fine for mods to act under this policy, but they aren't doing so for legal reasons. It's up to SE and solely up to SE how to manage their own liability according to their understanding of the law.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Aug 12 at 21:21
  • Same goes for plagiarism and copyright violations. If someone has a legal problem with any content, they can use the "contact" link at the bottom of any page.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Aug 12 at 21:23

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