Suppose someone operates a web-based forum where users can post information for other users to view. While not a mandated reporter as defined by the state the operator lives in, the site users come from different parts of the United States and some from other countries. Would the operator be obligated to report a crime or suspected abuse which is posted by a user to law-enforcement agencies? If so, what criteria should be used to determine which agency or agencies they should report to?

  • 1
    You operate a platform. You do not editorialize so you are not a publisher.
    – Trish
    Jul 10, 2020 at 10:02

2 Answers 2


It may depend on what offences are suspected of being committed.

One example is: In the under 18 U.S. Code § 2258A an Electronic Service Provider (ESP) is required to report apparent violations of sections:

  • 2251 [Sexual exploitation of children]

  • 2251A [Selling or buying of children]

  • 2252 [material involving the sexual exploitation of minors]

  • 2252A [material constituting or containing child pornography]

  • 2252B [Misleading domain names with intent]

  • 2260 [sexually explicit depictions of a minor etc]

The report is made to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) who in turn forward the information to the relevant domestic or foreign law enforcement agency.

The ESP is protected from commiting distribution or related offences when making the report by virtue of subsection (g)(4):

Permitted disclosure by a provider.—

A provider that submits a report under subsection (a)(1) may disclose by mail, electronic transmission, or other reasonable means, information, including visual depictions contained in the report, in a manner consistent with permitted disclosures under paragraphs (3) through (8) of section 2702(b) only to a law enforcement agency described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) of paragraph (3), to NCMEC, or as necessary to respond to legal process.

  • It should be noted that this operates against the general background in U.S. law that there is no duty to report any crime unless a specific statute so provides, and in most cases, in most U.S. states, there is no statutory obligation to report a crime. (There is, however, a statutory duty to report treason and sedition under federal law, as well as the crimes listed in this answer).
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 2, 2021 at 22:49

My recommendation is if you know the general location of the user, find them through those means... otherwise contact local law enforcement and explain the problem. In the United States, credible communications of an intended crime rise to the FBI as they will likely be interstate matters (If you're in Texas and being threatened by a crime by someone from spins the spinner Rhode Island and it's legitimate enough threat, than the crime crosses State Lines and is in Federal Jurisdiction.).

As the owner/operator, you have an incredible amount of power to figure out identifiable information that can help you. Speaking from personal excperience, I once had a web-forum user who was threatening suicide in one of our chat rooms. I was able to check on forum for the e-mail account and was able to link that through a google search of the address to a social-media account that included a lot of discussion on topics our forum was set up for (Star Trek fans) AND some hobbies I knew the guy was involved with... as well as a name and some other region specific affiliations... all that was given to the suicide prevention hotline worker I was talking too and forwarded to the local police... and moments later in chat, the suicidal individual typed up "OMG, who called the cops."

Suffice to say, it's not hard in the social media era for a determined individual to find someone... You just need to access the right information, and rely on the fact that most people use the same passwords for e-mail registrations.

  • 5
    The question being asked is "when am I required to report a crime to the authorities?"
    – Mark
    Feb 16, 2019 at 2:31
  • 2
    @Mark: This answer appears to address the subquestion "what criteria should be used to determine which agency or agencies I report to?", but I agree it definitely fails on the question of obligation.
    – Ben Voigt
    Feb 16, 2019 at 20:23

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