Happily, my new comment moderation policy has made it impossible for MU! and the other merry pranksters to continue their lunkhead flame war. Of course, their comments still show up in my Typepad account. For the most part, each of them just accuses all the others of impersonating him (if you can follow that). It's pretty weird.
Strangest of all was a comment from MU! explaining that he brought about all this chaos for my own good. You see, it was "a lesson" that I needed to learn. He claims he was concerned that "libelous" comments from Forests would lead to lawsuits that would cousume "any miniscule [sic] income" I make, so he decided to demonstrate my "ultimate liabilities."
This is certainly very nice of him - except that, unlike MU!, I've actually looked into the law in this area, and I know that a blog author is not liable for statements made by others that appear on a comments thread.
It all comes down to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As described by a legal website, Section 230
provides a strong protection against liability for Internet "intermediaries" who provide or republish speech by others...
The vast weight of authority has held that Section 230 precludes liability for an intermediary's distribution of defamation.
The same site goes into more detail about Section 230 (emphasis added):
Section 230 says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."...
Bloggers can be both a provider and a user of interactive computer services. Bloggers are users when they create and edit blogs through a service provider, and they are providers to the extent that they allow third parties to add comments or other material to their blogs.
And here's a nice little summary from an online newspaper called The Blog Herald (again, emphasis added):
A lot of times, commenters on your site will say something that is mean spirited toward someone else and it’s possible that the person who the comment is about will write you and request its removal.
While it may be a reasonable reaction on their part, if they threaten to sue you for libel, they are way off target.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act makes it clear that the medium of a libelous message can not be treated as the source. As such, if the comment didn’t come from you but was merely posted on your site, you have no responsibility for it and no need to remove it.
That being said, you may still want to remove the comment because libelous comments do not make for a good community and it probably isn’t the kind of discussion you want to encourage. However, the legal risk of having it up is effectively nil, at least as long as you are in the U.S.
So as much as I appreciate MU!'s heartfelt attempt to educate me on these matters - and to educate other bloggers, apparently, since he says he has done this many times before - the truth is that I'd already educated myself, which is how I already knew that MU! is entirely wrong.
All he's actually accomplished is to make it harder for legitimate users of this blog to have a conversation.