Flamewars may cause burning sensation; consult your doctor. July 22, 2007 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Shetland Ponyfilter: small feature request, it may be time to surrender to the litigiousness of the modern world and add a disclaimer to AskMe thread pages.
posted by Riki tiki to Feature Requests at 6:40 PM (38 comments total)

I strongly disagreed with this thread being posted (cough), but there's a valid concern that people might take casual advice from some anonymous internet dude or dudette with more authority than it deserves. In fact, it's more dire than just the difference between professionals and average folk. One of the threads I linked above was regarding a lethal "answer" to an everyday type of question.

I know there's folks who think there are too many legal disclaimers, and make HURF DURF NATURAL SELECTION jokes as if they were driving home from a Denis Leary performance in 1994. But given that AskMe's not likely to stop receiving medical and legal questions, and that the problem wouldn't be solved even if it did, I think it would be appropriate to have a small but obvious disclaimer at the top of the page to the following effect:

"Ask MetaFilter is a community site. None of the answers are guaranteed to be serious or correct. In fact, someone may make a potentially lethal joke without believing you'd take it seriously. MetaFilter does not endorse any of the responses or your choice to follow them." (disclaimer: I do not endorse the preceding disclaimer as offering any protections, legal or otherwise)

Matt, maybe I'm missing something... you expressed your support for this before but I don't currently see anything like this on AskMe threads except the small print after the preview, which says nothing about interpretation of others' comments. Feel free to delete this and mock me if I'm overlooking something obvious.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:40 PM on July 22, 2007


I'll defer to mathowie on this since it's his ass on the line, but I do feel that there is a blanket "this is just dorks on the internet, caveat emptor" disclaimer to pretty much everything around here. However, I don't see any real downside to having a disclaimer except that it would become one more thing to argue about in MetaTalk (wording, legal implications of, lameness of, etc) and I've rarely seen a time where such a thing would be at all useful except for possible fending off potential imaginary lawsuits regarding yet-unkown topics.

Just because you have a sign on your pool saying NO SWIMMING doesn't mean someone can't sue you if their kid drowns.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:56 PM on July 22, 2007


ask metafilter is a community site ... some of our members may be posting from mental hospitals or prisons, others should be ... if you do decide to follow the advice that these anonymous, unaccountable, and possibly deranged people post here, please reflect that you haven't paid anything for this advice and are probably getting your money's worth ... at least 10 of our members enjoyed tearing the wings off of flies as children ... some of them even ate the flies afterwards ... last of all, many of our members have publicly admitted hating one another to the point where they wish death by fire on each other or threaten to cut off their hands to prove their sincerity ... frankly, i've gotten better advice with a bottle of ripple and a 5 buck rock of crack ... ymmv ... in fact, you may find yourself in the middle of a bad neighborhood with an empty gas tank that's how much ymmv

proceed at your own risk
posted by pyramid termite at 7:01 PM on July 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


> (disclaimer: I do not endorse the preceding disclaimer as offering any protections, legal or otherwise)

So, basically, you're demanding people be cautioned against those who are doing exactly what you're doing. Except that you believe that what you're doing is perfectly OK for just this once.

I endorse worrying less about this and worrying more about important things.
posted by ardgedee at 7:05 PM on July 22, 2007


This would just be like shooting ducks for me, wouldn't it?
posted by disclaimer at 7:07 PM on July 22, 2007


jessamyn: 100% agreed, although I suspect the NO SWIMMING sign would lend more to your legal argument than if you had a SWIMMIN' HOLE sign. Having an "Ask MetaFilter" site with ostensible "answers" and a highlighted best answer seems more like the latter.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:11 PM on July 22, 2007


I suspect the NO SWIMMING sign would lend more to your legal argument...

I was just being an attractive nuisance or talking about them. I'm sure there are other legalese reasons that we might want to have a disclaimer, maybe one of the local MeFiJD's can offer some [NOT LEGAL] advice.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:22 PM on July 22, 2007


Disclaimer: I am a human being, but I am not YOUR human being.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:32 PM on July 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


The best protection MeFi can ever have against lawsuits is a lack of funds or other assets to plunder.

If matt had $10 M in the MeFi bank account, then a few opportunistic lawyers would constantly be suing him.

From an ethical point of view, put disclaimers on your suggestions if you like (I sometimes do). Otherwise, I'd have to go with HURF DURF NATURAL SELECTION. We need more of it around here.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:42 PM on July 22, 2007


Would posting a disclaimer actually prevent anyone from suing if they could sue in the first place?

Kinda sad that people are so afraid of litigation that they would try to prevent people from giving each other advice.
posted by delmoi at 8:03 PM on July 22, 2007

"Ask MetaFilter is a community site. None of the answers are guaranteed to be serious or correct. In fact, someone may make a potentially lethal joke without believing you'd take it seriously. MetaFilter does not endorse any of the responses or your choice to follow them." (disclaimer: I do not endorse the preceding disclaimer as offering any protections, legal or otherwise)
By the way, a non-lawyer not only giving legal advice, but suggesting disclaimer language as part of a complaint about inexpert advice is pretty rich in irony.
posted by delmoi at 8:05 PM on July 22, 2007


I'm having trouble coming up with a legal theory that someone would use to sue the site for "bad advice." It would be one thing if the site or particular users were holding themselves out as experts in particular areas, but I don't see people doing that on the site (usually, it's the opposite: people take pains to explain the limits of their advice; IANYL, etc.) I think a plaintiff would be hard pressed to explain in a complaint how they ended up relying on the free advice of anonymous strangers on the internet.

I suppose someone can always file a meritless complaint, but a disclaimer isn't going to protect against crank lawsuits anyway.

Also, doesn't the federal law that applies to websites and ISPs have some pretty good limitations on liability for "carriers" of content generated by others?
posted by Mid at 8:24 PM on July 22, 2007


Here's the federal statue I'm talking about.
posted by Mid at 8:30 PM on July 22, 2007


delmoi: that's my point. There's good advice (and then there's my advice) to be had out there from people who aren't professionals in the field. But it harms nothing (other than a slight aesthetic annoyance) to remind people, including first-time users coming in from google searches, that they have to read with a critical eye. It might make a difference between someone reading up to "mix ammonia and bleach," and someone reading past it to see if it was discredited by other commenters.

I overreached with the OP. I have no idea whether such a disclaimer would make a lick of difference in a courtroom and probably shouldn't have been making wisecracks about litigiousness. But I think it's a good idea in general and additionally might (subject to agreement from some IAALs out there) have some legal weight if only as a sign of good faith on the site.
posted by Riki tiki at 8:53 PM on July 22, 2007


Metafilter: Caution, use at your own risk... May cause headaches, death, loss of consciousness, abnormal growths, reckless behaviour, malaria, electrocution, spontaneous human combustion, pregnancy, divorce, rectal bleeding, overuse of in-group phrases, snowflake self-identification anxiety, broken bones, irresponsible parenthood, all manner of sexually transmitted disease, termination of pregnancy, impotency, rage, insomnia, feelings of grandiosity......
Metafilter is not your doctor, check with your doctor, if these symptoms persist, or get worse discontinue use immediately.
posted by edgeways at 9:02 PM on July 22, 2007


I suspect the NO SWIMMING sign would lend more to your legal argument...
Except that, by putting up that sign, you acknowledge that there is a hazard that people need to be protected against. By not taking all due care to avoid injury after acknowledging that there is a danger, you can put yourself in a worse situation than if you don't acknowledge the hazard in the first place.

In other words, you can't win, so don't bother trying.
posted by dg at 9:02 PM on July 22, 2007


I know there's folks who think there are too many legal disclaimers, and make HURF DURF NATURAL SELECTION jokes as if they were driving home from a Denis Leary performance in 1994.

Nice pre-emption, but still, you know: people are responsible for their own decisions, and for parsing the value of various pieces of advice they receive based on where that advice comes from. If they can't figure out that taking Joe Random Internet User's suggestion to mix bleach and ammonia and huff the fumes to clear their nasal passages might be something they ought to get a second opinion about, well, sorry, but: fuck 'em.

Still, I don't mind Matt putting up a big red flashing disclaimer if it covers his butt. Just wrap it in a nice #id'd div, so I can adblock it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:10 PM on July 22, 2007


The world is a "use at own risk" zone.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:29 PM on July 22, 2007


Disclaimers don't cover anyone's butt, unfortunately. They just keep solicitors in work writing them for one person at the same time as poking holes in them for the next. They make people feel better sometimes and lull them into a false sense of security and that's about it. If that is the goal, the easiest way is just to steal one from the Internet like everyone else does - free and ineffective beats expensive and ineffective any day.
posted by dg at 9:35 PM on July 22, 2007


I also don't see anything much in the way of risk reduction flowing from a disclaimer.
But then again, maybe AskMetafilter needs an About Page [jeez that could do with an overhaul too]. If a person was wanting to judge whether or not they were wronged by taking wayward advice from a site, the first thing they would look at is what the site purports to be. In Askme's case, it doesn't tell us (beyond the bleeding obvious to those of us who know it well).
posted by peacay at 10:19 PM on July 22, 2007


Out of curiosity, and not to say that you're mistaken, but how many of the people here saying a disclaimer offers no legal protection are actually lawyers? I honestly believed that it would offer some level of protection, but jessamyn made a valid (and cited, even if it was wikipedia) counterpoint.

At the very least, it might be worth discussing the subject with an IRL lawyer, mathowie, to give you a level of comfort beyond my speculation and that of the dissenting voices in this thread.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:51 PM on July 22, 2007


Just add a "for entertainment purposes only" disclaimer like all those TV psychics!
posted by O9scar at 11:10 PM on July 22, 2007


infotainment!
posted by Meatbomb at 11:32 PM on July 22, 2007


enterfoment!
tainto... oh, never mind.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:42 PM on July 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


The suggestion of adding a disclaimer appears to be prompted by the nice thought of "let's keep MetaFilter Network LLC from being sued." Whether or not MetaFilter needs a disclaimer, and what it says, is up to Matt to decide, as Jessamyn says it's his ass on the line.

But are we also bringing up the simple concern that someone may misread advice and do themselves harm? Forget that that person may end up filing suit. Do we, the community, want to add a warning to remind people that some people make jokes and many of us aren't specialists in the area of advice we give?

These are two different things with different purposes. The first one isn't up to us and it's about pretecting Matt's LLC. The second could be up to us and it's about protecting the person who asks the question.
posted by girlhacker at 12:10 AM on July 23, 2007


What are you worried about, exactly? What do you think people are going to sue Metafilter for? Why do you think a disclaimer will fix it?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:53 AM on July 23, 2007


Do we, the community, want to add a warning to remind people that some people make jokes and many of us aren't specialists in the area of advice we give?

Better yet, let's print out enough copies of this warning to paste on every telephone pole from New York to L.A.
posted by item at 1:19 AM on July 23, 2007


infoflingment

If it wasn't too big, I wouldn't mind a (legally useless, of course) disclaimer if only to make it less likely that people would use their own (equally legally useless) disclaimers (IANAL, etc.), but also because it might make naive people think twice about stuff they see and do here.

The main worry is not with legalities, but with inexperienced people being hurt, isn't it? Grandma logs in to ask about cleaning fluids and gets dangerous advice from the sullen kid who sits in the back of every class except chemistry.

So show a disclaimer all the time to people who are not signed in and to every member before submitting each of their first five or ten posts, questions, or comments. Maybe a different advisory and disclaimer for each type of action. Hold their hands and walk them into the shallow end the first few times they visit the pool. Make people swear they've read and understood all of fandango_matt's Be Safe and Smart (annotated?), etc. Someone with time on their hands could even write a relatively sophisticated interface for new folk that reads their submissions and posts warnings: "[insult]? Are you calling someone here a [insult]? Please remember to address the subject and not the author. [different insult]." and "You are reading advice written by potentially stupid and uninformed sadists who wouldn't mind one bit if you and your family all writhed on the floor and died as a direct result of reading this posting. Read all of the comments and think for yourself."
posted by pracowity at 2:28 AM on July 23, 2007


Just because you have a sign on your pool saying NO SWIMMING doesn't mean someone can't sue you if their kid drowns.

Yeah, and some might say that it implies that TREE CLIMBING IS OK because you mentioned one and not the other. Sometimes general is better.

But I did not say this. I was not here.
posted by dreamsign at 4:25 AM on July 23, 2007


Another thought: Where would you put the disclaimer? At the top of the AskMe homepages? In that case, nobody who followed a link directly to a thread will see it, and it's useless.

At the top of each page? Most people following a link to a comment in-thread will not see it. Useless.

I can't think of an effective way to throw legal cover in front of every visitor short of a full-page (or page overlay) interstitial. There aren't many things you can do to your website that's more hated than that.
posted by ardgedee at 5:25 AM on July 23, 2007


Well, you could hit people with a disclaimer when they sign up and agree to the Metafilter Network TOS.
posted by Mid at 5:32 AM on July 23, 2007


That's only effective for people with the privilege to post. It would not be visible to nonmembers reading the site.
posted by ardgedee at 6:40 AM on July 23, 2007


Lately, while Googling various items of no particular import, I have gotten many hits for AskMe. Members, especially if they've been around awhile, mostly understand that it's a community, with smart people, nice people, some well-intentioned dunderheads, a few village idiots, and a few malicious jackasses. But as the site gains in credibility, many visitors do not understand the community.

Instead of the legal, "What if Matt gets sued?" how about "What's the right thing to do?" If I were Matt and his team, I'd use some sort of explanation/disclaimer.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 AM on July 23, 2007


it may be time to surrender to the litigiousness of the modern world

No, it isn't ever that time.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:04 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


But as the site gains in credibility...
What we need is a less professional-looking color scheme to fend off this danger.
posted by nowonmai at 10:26 AM on July 23, 2007


I admit that I only took a cursory look around, but I couldn't find a prominent disclaimer on Yahoo Answers and Yahoo is far more likely to be sued than Matt.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:51 PM on July 23, 2007


"Yahoo! does not evaluate or guarantee the accuracy of any Yahoo! Answers content. Click here for the Full Disclaimer."

At the bottom of the main page and each question page on Yahoo Answers. And, amusingly, the disclaimer page itself.

Despite the fact that they apparently didn't evaluate its accuracy, their extended disclaimer has sections specifically reiterating the limits of their liability for financial, medical, and legal matters.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:05 PM on July 23, 2007


I'd just put something in the TOS, since nobody ever reads those anyway.
posted by misha at 5:04 PM on July 23, 2007


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