Joel on Software, written by Joel Spolsky, is a great resource for software developers. He’s in my aggregator because you don’t have to be one to get something good from Joel’s writing.
Ryan Park reports on the posting there in an off-topic discussion board of a suicide note, along with one on the personal blog, by Chris McKinstry. Readers of the group tried to alert authorities, but it was too late. The non-moderated off-topic discussion group was permanently closed by Joel on January 24th as a result. Thanks to Dave Winer for the initial link.
What a sad, sad, series of events.
Let this be an example to what can happen to discussion boards. While there should be no legal liability for Joel as the publisher, the fact that it happened is enough of a concern. Section 230 of the Common Carrier communications regulations is entitled “Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material.” The intent of Section 230 is to provide immunity for most causes of action for the provider of an “interactive computer service” in which the provider is acting as a “publisher” or “speaker.” Under this section, the action Joel took in closing the discussion board was a sufficient response regarding the posting of the suicide note, which could have been considered offensive to some readers.
I’m all for free speech on the Internet, but you have to take bad days like this one along with all the good.
UPDATED TO ADD: I want to make it clear that I did not intend to imply that forum members were responsible for Chris’ death. Instead, they should be commended for their heroic efforts to try to prevent it. I was making a technical point about the note itself, which could be considered offensive material. For more on the facts, review the comments below, or read Mark’s excellent summary here. While I dispute Mark’s statements as to my intentions in writing the article, I will defend to the death his right to say what he wants.