As Frank Zappa mighta said, You’re not a real Forum til Somebody Sues You

The Rock & Roll Experimental performer Frank Zappa once quipped:

“You can’t be a Real Country unless you have a BEER and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a BEER.”

This week I am feeling like a REAL Website / Forum / Blog Writer/”Media Personality you once met on Twitter” because I received an email note from a Parts Supplier offering to sue me.

The Supplier in question is unhappy regarding a post on the CaddyInfo Forum.  In the post a Reader who had purchased an item from Parts Supplier via eBay described their experience with the item, and with Parts Supplier.  Unfortunately for Supplier of course, their experience was not good, and Supplier now wishes that their experience was not shared across the interwebs.

I don’t have a ‘side’ in this discussion / disagreement, except in the sense that I am on my ‘own’ side.

One of the traditional lessons of successful business is don’t make your Customer unhappy if you can avoid it.  A Happy Customer might tell someone else that they bought from you; an Unhappy Customer will be sure to tell 10 people that they will never buy from you again.

A feature of our modern high-communication inter-connected world is that Customers often have a VERY loud voice.  And Search Engines help to amplify that voice, with either very exciting or very upsetting results.

Now, the case law to date has been very clear that Forum Owners like CaddyInfo are not liable for individual posts by Forum Members.  Our Terms & Conditions are very clear on our Editorial Policy as well, making our liability for individual posts clear (none).  My email response to Supplier made it very clear I have no liability here, and invited Supplier to tell their side of the story in the Forum thread.  They repeated their threat instead.

It is not at all clear to me that the Supplier even has a non-frivolous complaint at all here.  An absolute defense to any claim of defamation is “truth”.  A separate defense to a claim is “opinion”. If the person makes a statement of opinion as opposed to fact, the statement may not support a cause of action for defamation.  A defense similar to opinion is “fair comment on a matter of public interest”.

Now, I am in a lucky situation in which I can afford excellent Legal Support and Advice.  So that helps simplify a decision to stand up to bullying versus deleting a Reader’s post because it is an “inconvenient truth”.

Also I have found over the last Decade+ running an online Forum that Readers understandably feel a great deal of ownership in their posts.  Willy-nilly deleting posts because someone disagrees with the content is very upsetting to them.  And I, unlike some parties in this debate (not naming any names), am very focused on Customer Satisfaction.

Here is my advice if you end up in this situation as a Vendor with one of your Customers:  First, try to address the issue with the Customer.  Second, try to clearly, and without being defensive or threatening, simply explain your side of the story on the site in question.  Readers can often tell a lot by the attitude and information in your response and judge if they would want to do business with you in the future.  If I were going to involve the Forum Owner at all, it would be to ask for advice or if they would intercede to setup a clear communication channel with the Customer, if you don’t have that already.

Have you been threatened with a Lawsuit unless you removed information from your Blog or Forum?  Leave a Reply (see below) and tell us about your experience, and how you responded.

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