Good evening from Germany,

I the CEO of a start-up that offers a social network where people can anonymously upload posts (only texts) that users within five miles can see and up/downvote. It is targeted at college students who use the app, as intended, as an anonymous platform that enables them to express their thoughts freely.

Unfortunately, the app has become popular among some American high schools, and, more or less naturally, is being misused for cyberbullying. The bullies are mostly boys posting profanity about girls in their courses.

I currently have got these paragraphs in my terms and conditions in place:

§14 - Disclaimers By using the service you agree to the extent permitted by the law to indemnify, defend and hold me harmless as well as any individual or company related to this app against any complaints, charges, claims, damages, losses, costs, liabilities and expenses (including attorneys’s fees) that relate in any way to your access or use of the services, your content and your breach of these Terms. [Service] and related services are provided to the extent permitted by law without any kind of warranties. We will attempt to provide a user experience free of annoyances, but we cannot warrant that. Neither do we warrant that the services will be always available, functioning without imperfections or error, has no security problems and any kind of information or content you obtain is correct or will be accessible in the future. We/I do not take any responsibility or liability for any kind of information or content that are related with the service. You understand that content may be misleading, offensive, inappropriate or illegal and that I am not responsible for it.  I am not liable for anything that happens to you while or because of using the service, this including amongst others loss of money, physical or mental damage, goodwill, loss of data and other losses of any form. Neither am I responsible for what other people may use the service for, even if those are illegal. The user agrees to take legal possible responsibilities for any actions that he takes that may or may not be related to the service.

Is that enough to protect myself and the company from legal responsibilities because of these bullies? Can I get sued because of these bullies?

The app is mostly used in America and it is incredibly hard to find good legal advice on American law regarding online platforms, so I would be really happy if you could give me some insights... ;)

  • If you want "good legal advice on American law," you need to hire a lawyer, especially for a business where you may have liability. And, LawSE is not for asking for or receiving specific legal advice. Nov 1 '18 at 20:12
  • @BlueDogRanch Let's not grill the OP simply because he happened to mention the keywords "legal advice". He does not need particularized services of an overseas attorney who would charge him very dearly for a simple question. It suffices to point the OP to sources/authorities that resemble his position. Nov 1 '18 at 20:20
  • 1
    @IñakiViggers Let's not stretch the parameters of asking for legal advice on LawSE. The idea that the OP might have to pay for a lawyer for his business is not a consideration here. Nov 1 '18 at 20:26
  • @BlueDogRanch I'm sorry, I was not aware of the fact that this forum was not meant for simple legal questions.
    – Whazzup
    Nov 1 '18 at 22:29
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    @Whazzup This Q&A site is for questions and answers; it is not for specific legal advice. Asking if your TOS will protect you and your company from legal responsibilities is asking for specific legal advice. Nov 2 '18 at 0:32

Is that enough to protect myself and the company from legal responsibilities because of these bullies?

The disclaimer is reasonable. It seems safe to me. In fact, common practice and U.S. law suggest that this type of disclaimers are unnecessary (see below).

You might also want to add a reminder that users' identifying information, contents, and other usage records may be disclosed to Law Enforcement or if directed by a court order. This should be pure common sense to any user, but maybe that would speed up your defense in the event that a meritless user attempts to shift blame onto you.

Can I get sued because of these bullies?

Yes, but what matters is that the plaintiff (whether a bully or a victim) would not prevail. See, for instance, O'Kroley v. Fastcase, Inc., 831 F.3d 352-355 (2016):

"No cause of action may be brought," the Act says, "and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law," for any claim that purports to treat an "interactive computer service" "as the publisher or speaker of any information provided" by someone else. 47 U.S.C. § 230(c), (e)(3).

The O'Kroley court's very next remarks about Google apply (and clearly are favorable) to you.

  • Thank you very much, that was really very helpful! Yes, I already have a law enforcement paragraph in place that enables me to share the information with the authorities without any problems. It's just that in Germany, you always hear stories like: “Man sued McDonals for $2 Million because he burned his lips on his coffee - and won“ kind of stuff from America, so I wanted to make really sure to be safe here.
    – Whazzup
    Nov 1 '18 at 22:28
  • You are very welcome. And yes, there are many bizarre or absurd outcomes in U.S. courts. Although some (not all) of those absurd outcomes are reversed on appeal, those reversals are not given as much publicity as the initial judgment. Nov 1 '18 at 22:41

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