Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Please use your online freedom responsibly


At our ethics board meeting last week, we discussed how far we should go to protect the identity of someone who blogs or posts on our site. The issue came up because one motivated poster has repeatedly tried to identify Michael Ratcliff's accuser.

As our policy states, we want to respect the privacy of those using and not share their e-mail addresses or identity without their permission. In many cases, we don't even know the identity of those posting. We make no effort to track people down through their IP addresses or any other cybersleuthing.

However, board members agreed we probably wouldn't go to court to defend those who break the law or libel someone. The courts have held that people posting to the Web are the publishers of their own comments, meaning they are legally responsible for their words. This has allowed newspapers to open up their Web sites in a way that wasn't possible with a traditional opinion page.

Of course, such freedom isn't without its own challenges. The Ratcliff poster may be breaking the law against identifying those under the age of 17 who report sexual assaults. I don't know whether the law applies in this case because Ratcliff's accuser is now an adult.  We deleted the offending posts as soon as they've been reported.

Board members agreed we're not going to fight a court order seeking information about someone accused of a crime. We hope we don't get placed in that situation and encourage everyone to act responsibly on the Web.  Freedom isn't free.