[Air-l] Evaluation Logs

ericgoldman at onebox.com ericgoldman at onebox.com
Tue Jun 3 09:12:04 PDT 2003

The liability of individual posters would be treated like any other allegedly defamatory statement.  The fact that the comments are web-published does little to change the application of traditional defamation law.  (In addition to the issues raised by Charles, there is also a minor set of issues relating to how the single publication rule applies online).

However, the website operator's liability is subject to a cyberspace-specific law: 47 USC 230.  In short, this law provides an effectively blanket immunity for the operator from any defamation in the postings of third parties.  Contrary to what some would believe/want, this law applies irrespective of the operator's knowledge (i.e., the operator may be fully aware of the posting, but still will not have any liability).  While 47 USC 230 has not been specifically interpreted in the context of teacher reviews, there has been at least one lawsuit in this area (see, e.g., http://www.gfn.com/archives/story.phtml?sid=5184), and there are cases applying the immunity to other forms of "consumer reviews" (see, e.g., Schneider v. Amazon.com, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=wa&vol=2001_app/46791-3&invol=3).

Eric Goldman
Marquette University Law School
ericgoldman at onebox.com
Personal home page: http://eric_goldman.tripod.com

-----Original Message-----
From:     Charles Ess <cmess at lib.drury.edu>
Sent:     Tue, 03 Jun 2003 07:23:32 -0500
To:       <air-l at aoir.org>
Subject:  Re: [Air-l] Evaluation Logs

Interesting thread! (Aren't they all?)

My _hunch_ would be that the issues involved would be analogous to
publishing comments about a person in a newspaper or other public venue -
and thus would depend in some measure on the laws and practices regarding
libel (in the case of libelous comments that could be proven to be untrue).
The complicating factors:
1) whether or not professors can be seen as "public" figures (in which case,
at least in the U.S., as I understand it, pretty much anything goes);
2) whether the forum is seen as a public venue (hence, the laws apply) like
a newspaper, or more like a private one (at least in the U.S., especially in
light of 1st amendment rights of free speech, again, anything goes); and
3) how these laws and practices vary from country to country.

On all of these matters, there are _real_ experts on the Air list (you know
who you are - smile!): I hope they'll pitch in and contribute their

While I agree that such a site/process is not necessarily bad - at the same
time, I would hope that no one would take such a site as anything more than
a "customer satisfaction" measure - and that, among purely self-selected
customers (probably those really enthusiastic about and those really pissed
off at a certain professor).  Given the real anonymity of the comments and
ratings, this information _could_ be useful, if read carefully - but I don't
see anything at the site suggesting such caveats.

At the same time,: this seems to take the "student as consumer" model to a
new height -or low, insofar as, in my view, such a model is pretty much
opposite to what I think higher education, at least as rooted in liberal
arts traditions, should be about.  Perhaps this is why I received the lowest
ratings in my university for "easiness"? (smile)

In any case, looking forward to hearing from our real experts on this -

Charles Ess
Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.                          Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA            FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

> From: Homero Gil de Zuniga <hgildezuniga at wisc.edu>
> Reply-To: air-l at aoir.org
> Date: Tue, 03 Jun 2003 03:27:15 -0500
> To: air-l at aoir.org
> Subject: RE: [Air-l] Evaluation Logs
> That was funny. Regarding your question, I don't exactly know where the
> limit is but I guess that as long as they don't infringe any basic human
> being rights, they should be fine. I also would imagine that it depends
> on peoples' perception. In any case, it was interesting finding me
> rated... :)  Probably the fact that they said I was good and evidently
> HOT (just kidding) made me see it not necessarily and intrinsically
> bad... More thoughts? Anybody with a cyberspace- law-policy background?
> Hernando?
> Cheers,
> HGZ 
> Homero Gil de Zuniga
> http://www.homero.educations.net
> Project Assistant for the Journalism & Mass  Communication Department
> www.journalism.wisc.edu
> http://www.wisc.edu
> PO BOX 260022
> 53726 Madison
> e-mail: hgildezuniga at wisc.edu
> Office: (608) 263-7852
> "It is nice to be important... but it is much more important to be
> nice".
> -----Original Message-----
> From: air-l-admin at aoir.org [mailto:air-l-admin at aoir.org] On Behalf Of
> EGodard
> Sent: Tuesday, June 03, 2003 12:05 AM
> To: air-l at aoir.org
> Subject: [Air-l] Evaluation Logs
> I apologize if this has already been discussed here; I haven't seen it,
> and
> have looked through the archive.
> What thoughts have ye on sites such as http://www.ratemyprofessor.com?
> Are
> there legal boundaries to what the site can allow? Are things said there
> contestable against the author and/or the site?
> Given relatively small numbers of evaluators per professor evaluated, I
> would presume there to be negative bias. Interestingly, however, the FAQ
> for
> that site in particular claims 60% positive ratings.
> -eg

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