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Members taking legal responsibility for their posts and possible libel action

Started by fallen_angel, October 11, 2007, 08:07:18 AM

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fallen_angel

I'm having a problem at the moment on one of my forums (it's a support forum for a medical condition). Members overall tend to be negative towards the medical profession as a whole, which is beginning to be quite wearing, especially when we're trying to forge better links with doctors to get more research into the condition underway. I'm trying to widen the appeal of the forum, so it's not quite so focussed on the medical issues, and I've recently introduced a debating forum where they can argue and bicker about issues of the day to hopefully take some of the heat off the general complaining about the medical profession, and other new boards that aren't medically focussed, and it seems to be working to a certain extent.

Following a recent forum newsletter article I wrote about "thinking before you post", suggesting that members might like to think about what they're saying before slating the whole of the medical profession because of the actions of one doctor, I've been innundated with cries of "we will not be censored!" On a number of occasions over the past few days I've explained on the forum again that we're not in the business of censoring posts like that, but over recent days this seems to have stirred up a minority of members who are talking about, and some actually "naming and shaming" doctors and hospitals they've had problems with, which I'm very wary about allowing. In the past we've said that we don't recommend it, and pointed out they're legally responsible for anything they say, but would I be right in thinking that as the forum's owners we'd have some sort of legal responsibility too? I've tried to explain about email addresses and IP addresses and us having a legal responsibility to hand any records over if requested by the courts, but I'm wondering if anyone knows of any specific examples where legal action has been taken over libellous comments on a forum.

I really don't want to have to frighten them, but I feel as though I need to give some sort of specific examples to show that this can be potentially very serious, and I'm beginning to be concerned also about the potential legal implications about allowing this to continue for the admin team.

Can anyone offer any advice please?
MasterWeb & the IB Geek Girls: Outback behind the bikesheds - talking geek
ecanus.net: smileys and *stuff*
-- "You don't need eyes to see - you need vision" ~ Maxi Jazz --

Ben_S

Since you appear to be based in the UK, under UK law you are liable for any content posted onto your website in a similar way to a newpaper editor.

It might be worth having a read of http://www.lawyers-media.com/guide/subs.htm#defamation

Heres a couple of sites that have had "legal issues" in the past
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumsnet#Mumsnet_vs_Gina_Ford
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxegen_2006#Aftermath
Liverpool FC Forum with 14 million+ posts.

karlbenson

Indeed.  I remember a couple of cases from my law degree on this.
One of the main cases is Laurence Godfrey v. Demon Internet Limited
Under UK law you cannot make posters of defamatory content solely responsible for it.

You come under a legal category of "distributor" and like the original poster can be sued.

If in doubt, you need to speak to a solicitor. (including probably drafting your own 'legalised' terms and conditions.)

With regards to censorship and freedom of speech.  My argument has always been, I agree with them, BUT not on my domain/server/forums.  If you wish to post that stuff (inc warez etc, fine, but get your own server/domain and post it on your own site, where you bear the legal responsbility, not me)

fallen_angel

Thanks for that, to both of you. This is obviously something I need to take more seriously and look into. I'll take a look at those links.

I've already suggested to my co-admins and mods that we come up with some sort of public document that clearly outlines exactly what we will/will not moderate and why, so everyone's clear on where they stand, and suggested a change in the forum rules (at the moment we've just got a clause in about not 'attacking' any person or group of people. Up until now we've relied on members excerising some common sense to a large extent, along with closing down a past thread someone started for "naming and shaming", but clearly I need to look into this a lot more and it needs to be made clear that this is not acceptable and we won't tolerate it.

Thanks again.
MasterWeb & the IB Geek Girls: Outback behind the bikesheds - talking geek
ecanus.net: smileys and *stuff*
-- "You don't need eyes to see - you need vision" ~ Maxi Jazz --

fallen_angel

Thanks again for your advice guys, and an update on what's been happening.

We issued a forum newsletter notifying members of a change in the forum rules to ban "naming and shaming", and outlined the legal position. We've got the "updated registration agreement" mod in place, so members have to agree to abide by revisions to the registration agreement, which also references our rules page, so anyone who's still on the forum is deemed to have agreed to the new rule, and anyone who persists in the "naming and shaming" earns themself an instant permanent ban.

The vast majority of members have been fine with it and some have even been in touch to thank us for clamping down on it, and thanked us for letting them know they're legally responsible for what they post (*sigh* it's not like we haven't told them before). Of course we also got a small minority emailing us accusing us of behaving like "cyber police" and such like (obviously hadn't bothered to read what we'd actually put in the newsletter), but I suppose that's to be expected, and I'm sure we won't miss them.

Overall the general atmosphere seems to have improved as well, and though it's early days yet, things are looking a lot more cheerful there.  :)
MasterWeb & the IB Geek Girls: Outback behind the bikesheds - talking geek
ecanus.net: smileys and *stuff*
-- "You don't need eyes to see - you need vision" ~ Maxi Jazz --

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