I have spoken with “Rodney” at AOL’s Customer Service Center in Virginia. He has given me more answers to clarify — and correct — the misinformation given to me by previous operators.
The answers I am about to supply are not verbatim, but I do feel that they correctly represent what I was told this afternoon.
Q: Are hyperlinks, in and of themselves, a violation of AOL’s Terms of Service?
A: (At first, before checking with a supervisor:) You cannot link to material that you don’t own. That would be copyright infringement.
A: (Moments later, after discussing this with a supervisor:) No, a hyperlink isn’t a violation in and of itself. You can hyperlink to other web pages, even those you do not own. However, the websites themselves must not be of inappropriate content, according to AOL’s Terms of Service. In other words, you can’t do a hyperlink to a porn site, because the porn site would be a violation of Terms of Service.
Q: What is AOL’s Standard Operating Procedure with regard to dealing with complaints?
A: When a complaint is received about an AOL Journal, the Community Action Team will review it. They will consider it from the point of view of the person who complained and they will also look at it within context of the entry. The decision is made based on the concerns of the global journal community: if it’s offensive or violates the Terms of Service, they will put a block on that user’s account. The user will then have to contact AOL who will explain that a violation has occurred.
Q: At that point, does AOL spell out exactly what the violation is?
A: Yes. AOL is supposed to explain what was found to be a violation and ask the member to remove it at once. If the member doesn’t remove it, and we do go back and check, within a specified time period, we will then likely delete the material and cancel their account.
Q: So you’re telling me that it would be inconsistent with the policy within AOL for them not to explain what the violation would be?
A: That’s right. They would assume that the member who posted the violation might have been ignorant of the rules, which is why we encourage everyone to go to Keyword: Terms of Service and familiarize themselves with the regulations spelled out there.
Q: Does AOL have the capacity to remove an entire journal at once?
A: Yes. In the “Content” section of the Member Agreement at Keyword: Terms of Service, it states that “AOL reserves the right to remove Content that, in its sole judgment, does not meet its standards or does not comply with the AOL Community Guidelines, but AOL is not responsible for any failure or delay in removing such material.”
Q: Is it ever the policy to remove a journal entry without notifying the writer first?
A: The normal policy would be to have the member call us by putting a block on the account. At that point, we would explain the violation, and ask the member to take action immediately. For the entire journal to be deleted without notice to the member, there would have to have been a judgment that the journal was”so bad” overall in terms of violations that none of it could stand. It wouldn’t be policy to delete an entire journal over a single problem.
Q: Is there someone you can ask in advance to make sure that a post you want to publish won’t set off any alarms?
A: Unfortunately, there is no one available who can look at an entry in that way. The best advice is that if an entry seems questionable — if you feel like there is a potential problem with it, then you’re probably better off not chancing a violation.
Two important bits of knowledge came from the discussion. The first of which appears in this conversation: it took a discussion with a supervisor for this operator to realize that hyperlinks aren’t automatic violations. This makes one wonder how many other people within AOL aren’t aware of this. The Terms of Service do not state anywhere that one cannot hyperlink, and hyperlinks are automatically added by the journals software when a web address is entered into a comment in a journal: it’s not something any of us can control.
The second tidbit came when I mentioned the fact that I had a hard time understanding the operators at the Community Action Team’s toll-free number. It was explained to me that that department is in India. If that is true — and if the Community Action Team is the one who makes the judgment about what is and isn’t proper — it means that people who are difficult to understand and at times have difficulty understanding English speaking callers are making decisions from India about what is acceptable in the journals. One might wonder why it would be set up this way, since different cultures have vastly different ideas about decency.