What are defamation and libel guidelines and sanctions for discussing any science/practice issue on the IPA Listserv.

There were over 200 emails on this issue in a three week period of time. This resulted in a disruption of the listserv with several members resigning from the listserv. In addition, there has been a rancor expressed toward IPA staff members and volunteer officers of the Association. For example, there have been accusations of secrecy, officers’ dishonest motives, and officers’ unethical behavior. All of this besmirches people’s reputations, integrity and credibility. This is potentially libelous and actionable behavior, which we do not want on our listserv. Below is the relevant paragraph from the APA/IPA Rules of the listserv.

Defamation and libel – In exchanges on the listserv and when referring to others, avoid personal attacks and characterizations that question a person’s motives or qualifications. Sometimes a robust debate about ideas spills over into attacks on the proponents or opponents of the ideas. List members need to be reminded that a false statement that harms someone’s reputation can be actionable as libel. There is a substantial difference between disagreeing with how someone did their research or treated a patient and accusing the person of fraud or incompetence. Because negative statements that impugn someone’s professional qualifications can cause substantial economic and emotional harm, this is an area for careful scrutiny. Keeping criticism on an objective basis that is factually verifiable and skipping personal commentary about character, competence or motive minimizes legal risk.

The following statement defines the action that can be taken if discussion begins to violate the above listserv rule:

It is always appropriate to express dissenting opinions on the listserv. However, the listserv moderator’s job is to ensure that these opinions are expressed in a civil way and that the poster does his or her best to present factual information. If opinions are expressed in a manner that is not civil, then the post is not appropriate on a professional listserv. If in the judgment of the listserv moderator such a posting does occur, he/she will back channel the person and ask that language be toned down. If the person does not post respectfully after that, the moderator has the authority to place the person on a read-only basis for a probationary period. If the person comes back after a read-only probation and continues to be disrespectful, the moderator will have to remove the person from the listserv.


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