Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bloggers' responsibilities for comments and libel law

Matthew Cain did an interesting post about the responsibility of bloggers recently. He makes some good points and it is worth a read.


My understanding is that bloggers are responsible for what they post on their own blog and are subject to libel laws as anyone publishing articles in the press or other media would be. This seems perfectly fair to me and I am pretty careful about what I say about people, generally using my common sense. I wonder though if a different approach needs to be taken regarding the comments people post in the threads below blogs. I currently do not moderate these (although I could go through and delete any afterwards if necessary I have not yet felt the need to do this). That's not to say I won't at some point and in fact on another blog that I help run I had to do this a few months ago when things got a bit heated during a thread about a contentious issue. I did actually delete a blog post that was advocating violence against someone - it seemed obvious to me that it was going beyond the pail.

However, I am not legally trained and cannot afford to pay for someone who is to go through the comments on my blog and discern if they are libellous or not. I know a bit about this area, just from what I have picked up over the years but I am by no means an expert. I hope I would be able to spot and deal with things that fall into that category but I am far for sure I would, especially around the margins. It's also possible that I could miss posts, especially if I am away for a while as I have been a couple of times this month.

Maybe I need to go and do some more in-depth reading about libel law but is it reasonable to expect every blogger to do this and to be as au fait with this area as a newspaper with all the resources at their disposal?

13 comments:

Costigan Quist said...

Although it's your blog, might it be Google who is publishing comments. They run the blog, own the servers and storage they're all published on. They can close you down without notice whenver they feel like it.

One piece of advice I was given, though I've no idea if it's legally valid, is that by having comment moderation you open yourself to the charge that you had to see the comment and let it through - so more likely you could be held liable for any libellous content.

I regularly delete comments at the Cafe, but almost exclusively spam and advertising. I think I've only deleted a couple of real comments.

Andrew Hickey said...

What I do (not sure if you can do this on Blogger) is set it to moderate the first comment made by a user, then automatically approve anything after the first comment. That seems to filter out all the trolls, spammers and drive-by morons who might cause you a problem, without interfering with comment from those who actually have anything to say...

Mark Reckons said...

Costigan - I hadn't heard that before. I wonder if it's true.

Also, now you mention it I have deleted a couple of spam things from here but I didn't really think they counted as censorship.


Andrew - That sounds like a very good idea. There is a similat thing on the Cover it Live chat thing I do for BBC Question Time whereby you can approve a commenter to always publish or you can leave them as moderated. I'll have a look at the Blogger settings...

Andrew Hickey said...

What Costigan said is what I'd heard from MatGB, who tends to know his stuff on these matters...

sanbikinoraion said...

Pale.

Mark Reckons said...

Thanks for the correction. I will bear it in mind for the future although I had better leave the mistake in our no-one will understand what your comment is about!

Caron said...

That's interesting cos it seems that I've got it completely wrong, then. I've put moderation on because I was worried that I would be opening myself up to a libel suit if someone, say, posted a defamatory comment when I'm out at work and I didn't see it.

In practice, I don't actually reject very many comments - only spam and Neil Craig, really - but I would also not publish anything that was an unsubstantiated allegation about anyone of the sort that we know has got people into trouble with political literature in the past.

Someone once suggested that we have a bloggers' defence fund that we all pay into, but conventional wisdom was that the more sensible among us didn't want to be paying into defending those who regularly sail close to the wind, not mentioning anyone in particular of course.

Bernard Salmon said...

I believe Mr Quist is correct in his statement that comment moderation does make it more likely that you could be sued for defamation if you do allow something through which turns out to be defamatory - I believe that was a feature of the Demon Internet case a few years ago.
On the wider point of whether bloggers should know the in and outs of libel law, I agree that it's not possible for most bloogers to have an in-depth knowledge of the subject, but Mark is right to say that common sense is needed. I can think of a few bloggers who have made defamatory statements recently that they would not remotely be able to justify if sued - which they certainly could be.

Jon Worth said...

Frankly Mark I don't think you personally need to worry - the way you write and the style and approach you take (i.e. thoughtful and analytical, not attacking and personal) is highly unlikely to cause any legal action against you.

Plus the sensible thing to do if you think something is libelous is first of all to contact the author and see if they would be willing to remove the offending post and/or comment.

Plus as the Silvana Koch-Mehrin and Alisher Usmanov cases show, a legal answer to a blogging problem is seldom the right route.

Mark Reckons said...

Jon - thank you very much for your kind words.

However I was not really worried about stuff that I post - I am in control of that and try my best to keep it within reasonable bounds.

It is more about managing the comments. As I said I have not really censored anything on this blog yet but I do not know if I have missed anything that could be libellous. I hope not but I could not be sure.

dazmando said...

Well I have to say I do worry about this to a point. I think mind that you have to beable to say whatever you need to say about a person or business/organisation within reason of course.

Comments I believe so far they only one that needed deleting was the one that you did delete, although I didn;t see the comment ifself you expained why.

Sometimes I have even considered not referring to the subject theirself but decided this would make my blog post pointless. Even thought I can apply common sence, I still find it a bit tricky

Jennie said...

Other commenters are correct: you open yourself to libel if you moderate because you are giving explicit permission for the comment to be posted. If you don't moderate, the comment is the reponsibility of the person posting it.

Mat can cite sources for this, when he wakes up, if you like.

Matt Wardman said...

The "moderation implies approval for what is published since you are controlling it" is right.

A similar idea occurs in Rights of Way Law. If someone walks down a path for 25 years (or however long) that becomes a legal right and the landowner can do nothing, but if they accept a letter from the landowner giving them permission to walk down his path, then they have accepted that it is a private path.

If you moderate - you take ownership of the comment.

Bear in mind, also, that most newspapers are still on post-moderation models.