The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 8, 2006

Gossip Goes Offline Briefly

Oberlin’s procrastinators and Internet addicts were struck with surprise, and maybe even a bit of grief, when they hit the “refresh” button at the top of the Oberlin Confessional web page and found that there were no new confessions and that, in fact, the site had gone offline.

The site went down at around 6:40 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19 and returned at 1:20 a.m. the next day — an absence long enough to start a confused rumor mill. Some surmised that Harris Lapiroff, a College first-year and the site’s administrator, was up to his neck in libel issues and would eventually terminate the site. Others mused that trouble with the Student Senate resulted in the site’s removal, or that judicial action had been taken against some of the posters.

However, according to Lapiroff, the site is fine, and while legal concerns were the cause of the website’s disappearance, he said those legal issues have since been resolved.

“My site went offline because someone had brought a legal issue to my attention, specifically whether or not I, as maintainer of Oberlin Confessional, am responsible for libelous posts,” said Lapiroff. “Initially, I hadn’t taken this concern seriously, but when someone sent me an e-mail with a confessedly offhand legal threat on those grounds, I decided to take a break to do some research.”

Lapiroff found that website hosts like himself are not legally responsible for comments that other writers post on their sites. He cites the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in his defense, which states 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.”

Lapiroff remained relatively unconcerned about the matter.

“It’s funny to hear this called a controversy because it really hasn’t been [one] at all compared to what the Confessional has experienced previously,” he said.

Lapiroff also dismissed claims that Student Senate is taking action against his site, claiming to have received concern from the Senators over its content but no formal action.

“Having spoken — admittedly, not in any formal capacity, but only in passing — with a [Senator] about the issue, they’re simply concerned,” he said. “I do not know of any plans they have to take action — or really even what actions they might take, except to collaborate with me on making the site better, which I am entirely open to, should they approach me about it.”

Student Senator and College sophomore Benjamin Klebanoff denied that the Senate was taking action against the site: “Students have the right to engage in free speech.  This, as Oberlin Confessional has demonstrated, is a mixed blessing.  Many comments that have appeared on this forum are disturbing, offensive and, in my eyes, reflect poorly on the Oberlin student body. That said, students have the right to have access to such a forum and make such comments.”

Finally, Lapiroff denied suggestions of any students having been reported:

“I have not heard of any students being referred for judicial action, so I don’t know anything about that,” he said.

When asked about judicial recommendations in relation to the site, Kimberly Jackson Davidson, the judicial affairs coordinator for south campus, responded that she was “unaware of any such recommendations.”


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