As a hypothetical question,

I've accidentally stumbled upon a website that may contain illegal underaged material.

Due to a lapse in judgement, I posted/reported this to Law-based Reddit forum to let someone experienced check whether it's legal or not before I report. (Stupid I know.) However, someone on Reddit said it would be okay if I post the name of the site without the URL. So that's what I did.

I made it clear in the Reddit post that my intent was to report the site. Not to promote it.

I can't delete the post I made due to another lapse in judgement.

I now realize I should have used the proper channels but it's too late.

Have I accidentally broke the law by posting the website's name without the link?

Are there any laws that protect me from the stupid mistakes I've made? I've reported it to Crimestoppers.


We can start by looking at the text of the law. US federal law 18 USC § 2252A(a)(3)(B) says:

Any person who... knowingly... advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits through the mails, or using any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material is, or contains—
(i) an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
(ii) a visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct...
shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).

I'm not sure how much posting the name without the link would protect you, given that you posted it with the explicit intent that someone would go and look at it.

On the other hand, your intent was not to "advertise" or "promote" it, and you didn't actually "distribute" the material.

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It depends on what you say about the person / website, and how specific you are. If you name the accused with sufficient specificity that they are clearly identified, and you accuse them of distributing child pornography, then you might be sued for defamation. If they actually are distributing child pornography, then you have the classic defense against a defamation lawsuit (truth). If the individuals depicted are of age, you could be in legal trouble. However, if you say something along the lines of "Shocking how young these people look", especially in the context of that business, that would not be defamatory.

The link is not particularly crucial to a defamation claim, and if you simply claim that "Junior Fun Pix" (a currently non-existent company) distributes child porn, that would count as defamation. One of the elements of defamation is that the accused is specifically identified, so "some pervert" is not a specific enough claim that a defamation suit would go anywhere.

It is important to know that if you incorrectly accuse a person of distributing child porn, and make that accusation to the police, you are protected. Making a public accusation can lead to a defamation charge, making a police report absolutely will not. It's not clear exactly what you mean by "Crime stoppers" (i.e. are you referring to the organization Crime Stoppers USA?), but it is very unlikely that it is the police. Even if a defamatory statement is not splattered across the internet, communicating it to another counts as "publication". However, there is also a qualified privilege defense, whereby if you have an interest in the matter and you communicate it to a person with an interest in the matter, and do so in good faith, then even if the claim is false, you may be protected. It is an affirmative defense, so you have to prove good faith. Reporting to Redit or Facebook would probably be viewed as an officious statement, but reporting to "the authorities" even if they are not the police is likely to pass the sniff test for good faith. The circumstances surrounding the putative offense would be relevant in determining whether you have a reasonable cause for making the accusation (essentially: would any reasonable person come to the conclusion that you did?).

There is a Kafkaesque nightmare scenario where you report this to the police, and it really is child porn, but worse, the police decide to pursue you because you apparently viewed, at least for a moment, illegal footage. It then matters what country's police you report the crime to. In the US you should be safe (given US law, as noted in the other answer), but I would not say that about all countries (e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia, which have a harsh view of all forms of porn).

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    @user6726 Reporting it to Crime Stoppers is more like reporting it to the police than it is to posting it online. Crime Stoppers is a confidential hotline that takes anonymous tips from people who may be in a situation in which they know something but are afraid to speak up. – A.fm. Jan 19 '18 at 14:03
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    A lawyer told me that the law you mentioned doesn't apply to this case. He said that I did nothing wrong and that reporting it to Crimestoppers is sufficient. – user15157 Jan 19 '18 at 15:34
  • @user6726 assuming jurisdiction is somewhere on Earth, odds are Crime Stoppers reports are fine. – A.fm. Jan 19 '18 at 21:19

There is a difference between contacting an attorney and hiring an attorney. You need to hire an attorney. Attorney client privilege means you can tell him the specific nature of the suspected crime and your role in it and determine where to go from there. If you do not trust the attorney you contacted, do not hire him/her.

I think the best course of action for you at this point is to reach out to the office of the Public Defender in your jurisdiction (The "if you can not afford an attorney, one will be provided to you" part in the Miranda warnings when someone is arrested. It might be called another name.). Explain to their consultant in vague terms only what happened (You witnessed a possible criminal action and wish to report it and you didn't want to be seen as a participant in said criminal action. Do not at this point give them any information. You are not yet their client and while I'm pretty sure they still will have some privileged conversation, I really can't say for certain.). If they agree to help provide you legal services to do this, the attorney will explain that privilege and what he/she can and cannot keep from law enforcement. At this point tell the lawyer everything, including that embarrassing thing you were actually looking for when you stumbled upon the site. Do not lie to your lawyer.

If they do not agree, do not offer any more information and request a recommendation to a firm that will work with you. This will cost some money because Lawyers have to eat too. However, you could be helping children in really messed up situations and keeping yourself from going to jail... one of those two things should make it a sound investment. Again, once you're a client and have the Attorney Client Privilege explained, only then tell him everything, down to the deepest darkest secrets.

You should do this ASAP. If you are abroad and can, you should also do this from the US Embassy in that country (if you are in a country that does not have a US Embassy, then you should go to the Embassy of the nation designated with Protecting Power (they represent us). The four countries that the US has no embassy or ambassador are Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Libya. The US's interests in these countries are represented by Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey respectively.). In this case, you want the U.S. Consular Officer (or equivalent in the case of the Protecting Powers and in those counties, you should get there now). While this won't help you if you broke a law in the country you are in, they do know the legal system and how to best represent you in that country.

Please note, that giving the police evidence of a crime with an attorney present does not mean you are guilty. Although the sterotype of people who call their lawyers is that they are going to look guilty, to quote comedian Chris rock, "Yeah, but you [are] going home! You want to look innocent in jail? I'd rather look guilty at the mall."

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  • You don't need to hire an attorney for an attorney-client relationship privilege to kick in. Rather, if a person reasonably believed they were initiating an attorney-client relationship, even wholly absent the intent to pay any money at any time, and the attorney does not delineate the conversation by explicitly stating that no relationship is to arise, then attorney-client privilege may be considered to have come into being. – A.fm. Jan 19 '18 at 16:09
  • I don't see how this answers the question at all. "I posted the website's name without the link as he said. (Just the name, without the .com part). But now that I've reported it to Crimestoppers, I edited the comment out so that people cannot read it just in case the site actually turns out to have illegal content. My intention is obviously good, and I want justice. But I'm asking about the theoretical side." where did you address this in your answer? – LateralTerminal Jan 19 '18 at 16:49
  • @LateralTerminal: Providing a better way to go about this. Reddit is not law enforcement. – hszmv Jan 19 '18 at 16:54
  • @LateralTerminal: You're obviously concerned about being implicated in a criminal act when you only stumbled upon it. I'm no lawyer, but I know how they think and your intentions are not obviously good to a prosecutor who wants someone over this. The Lawyer is there to help guide you through the complex legal system and look out for your own self. This is how some innocent people get convicted on things they never had a hand in. – hszmv Jan 19 '18 at 16:58
  • @hszmv I don't care honestly. I'm just saying you didn't answer OPs question. He didn't ask anything about how to get a lawyer. He's asking about a hypothetical situation. Why don't you slowly read his question and the part I quoted. Change your answer to actually answer his question and I'd upvote your answer. – LateralTerminal Jan 19 '18 at 17:25

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