Why Your Website Might Need an ‘Idiot Disclaimer’

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You may have heard about the woman who’s suing Match.com for $10 million after she was attacked by a man with whom the site matched her. If you aren’t familiar with the story, well, there’s a woman who’s suing Match.com for $10 million after she was attacked by a man whom she met through the popular dating site. Great, now you’re up to speed. After the dating site matched the two together, the couple knew each other for eight days before the woman, Mary Kay Beckman, ended the relationship. (Is it considered a relationship after only eight days? In any case, she severed ties.) Four months after she broke up with her Match.com buddy, Wade Ridley, he attacked her, stabbing her 10 times and stomping her head.

Ridley is dead–he killed himself in prison after being convicted of murdering a woman in Arizona. Ms. Beckman, meanwhile, underwent multiple surgeries to correct her numerous injuries and is understandably wary of trying online dating again. However, her decision to sue Match.com for $10 million is a bit of a head-scratcher. According to Beckman’s attorney, she’s pursuing a lawsuit because Match.com is “absolutely not safe” and implements advertising tactics that “[lull]¬†women and men into a false sense of security.”

Unsurprisingly, Match.com finds the lawsuit “absurd.” After all, Ridley had no known criminal record so it’s not like they knowingly paired Ms. Beckman with a dangerous man. (I can’t imagine one of the features they list in a partner is “Enthusiasm for stabbing.”) Besides, meeting someone via an online dating site who turns out to be dangerous is irrelevant–she could have just as easily been set up with Ridley via a friend or family member, or met him at work. The risk factor in dating a complete stranger is the same whether you were set up with that individual in person or online.

Beckman’s angle with her lawsuit is that Match.com advertises how fun and awesome online dating is without highlighting the risks, which is pretty “no duh” considering we’re talking about advertising here. If companies were forced to disclose the drawbacks or risks associated with their products, Budweiser would have to show gruesome drunk driver-induced car crashes, McDonald’s would show morbidly obese people getting their feet lopped off due to type-2 diabetes, and the NFL would air spots highlighting the damaged brain scans of former athletes who can barely remember their names.¬†The entire point of advertising is to polish up your turd of a product or service. You make everything seem sexier or more awesome than it actually is. Welcome to marketing.

Now, clearly Match.com has some pretty legit lawyers who should be able to handle this lawsuit handily. However, if you’re operating a business and you don’t have “popular dating site” levels of cash, you may need to implement a few “idiot disclaimers” on your site. Match.com actually lists some safety tips on their website that point out ways to stay secure when interacting with someone online and offline, and I’m sure their signup process includes various waivers and disclaimers. (I don’t have a Match.com account because I’ve had the same ball and chain for the past 8+ years–errr, I mean, Jason, if you’re reading this, I love you! Please don’t stomp my head.) I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know how legally effective these disclaimers, terms of service, and words of caution are, but they can’t hurt.

I know that sticking “idiot disclaimers” on your site are a bit of a buzzkill, especially if the tone of your site is more light-hearted and fun. But in such litigation-happy times, it’s better to beat a dead horse and be extra-cautious when spelling out potential risks or drawbacks associated with your products or services. Even if you cram them into the footer, at least you can readily point to something should a customer or user come complaining. That way, you’re doing the bare minimum to try and cover your ass in case shit goes south.

What sort of ridiculous complaints have you received from your users? Do you have any “idiot disclaimers” in place on your site? If so, did they quell the gripes or were they largely ignored?

(photo credit: Daquella manera via photopin cc)

About Rebecca Kelley

Rebecca is the Editor in Chief for Reputation Management, an online resource for businesses and individuals who want to keep their online reputation in check. In her spare time she trains for marathons and triathlons and writes about her experience at Mediocre Athlete, as well as makes fun of her Asian mother over at My Korean Mom.

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One Comment

Jenna

Love your posts! I hate to say it, but yes the idiot disclaimer is probably necessary. We are only human…

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