Social European court says news website is liable for anonymous, defamatory comments from readers

Jos

Posts: 3,073   +97

huge loss free speech europe human rights court sites liable user comments

The European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg has set a dangerous legal precedent threatening freedom of speech and online publishing. In particular, a ruling issued this week says that Estonian news site Delfi may be held liable for anonymous and allegedly defamatory comments that readers post on its site.

The case relates to a 2006 article published by Delfi about SLK, a local ferry company. Even though the article itself was considered balanced and fair, there were many offensive or threatening anonymous comments about the ferry operator and its owner. However, according to the court, allowing anonymous comments stems from a commercial decision on Delfi’s part -- attracting more people to voice their opinions -- and therefore it should be held liable.

This despite the fact that the publisher’s commenting system allowed users to flag and automatically hide posts that they found offensive. According to reports, it also segregated anonymous comments from those of registered users, hiding them by default on its site, and the offensive comments had been removed following the initial complaint, prior to the lawsuit being filed.

In the U.S., the Communications Decency Act (CDA) specifically says that websites aren’t liable for the comments and content that users post online. Website owners are merely treated as a service provider.

According to EFF, under the E-commerce Directive in Europe (the region’s equivalent to DMCA takedowns), Delfi would normally be exempted from liability for user content unless it refuses to remove it after being informed of its illegality. But there’s a loophole in this directive as it provides a minimum level of intermediary liability without defining the limits of liability.

The court points out in its ruling that it doesn’t apply to other sites like forums or social networks but it’s a worrying precedent that could prompt websites to enforce real-name registration policies, undermining anonymity, or eliminate posting altogether when they can’t afford to implement screening procedures.

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psycros

Posts: 3,273   +3,605
Anonymity isn't a "commercial decision" but rather an ethical one. Is it ethical to force people to provide their real names online where any weirdo can stalk them? Of course not. Now consider that this is an online news outlet rather than the website of a TV channel or newspaper and the danger becomes all the more clear. The irony of a so-called Court of Human Rights rendering such a decision truly defies belief...and considering the Estonian connection, smacks of nationalistic bias at work in the EU (again).
 
D

davislane1

Gonna call the shot...

This marks the beginning of the end of reader commentary on news websites and will open the door to regulation of non-news sites as well.
 

MilwaukeeMike

Posts: 3,214   +1,467
There goes the honest reviews of defective products. Good luck buying anything worth having. This is a small win for corporate.
Why is this even a story?

The entire population of Estonia is only slighter larger than my teeming 'metropolis' of Milwaukee. I'd bet most anyone reading this story couldn't even find them on the map.

If you do find them on the map you'll see they're next to that beacon of free speech called 'Russia' where protesting gets you serious jail time. Point being, as far as freedom of speech violations go around the world, this doesn't even make the list.
 
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mailpup

Posts: 7,618   +733
TS Special Forces
Why is this even a story?

The entire population of Estonia is only slighter larger than my teeming 'metropolis' of Milwaukee. I'd bet most anyone reading this story couldn't even find them on the map.

If you do find them on the map you'll see they're next to that beacon of free speech called 'Russia' where protesting gets you serious jail time. Point being, as far as freedom of speech violations go around the world, this doesn't even make the list.
It's a story because if you read the first sentence, it sets a legal precedent for member states. It's not just the relatively small population of Estonia that should be concerned but all of the 47 member states (which, interestingly, also includes Russia, BTW).
 

MilwaukeeMike

Posts: 3,214   +1,467
It's a story because if you read the first sentence, it sets a legal precedent for member states. It's not just the relatively small population of Estonia that should be concerned but all of the 47 member states (which, interestingly, also includes Russia, BTW).
Maybe I'm missing it, but the first line of the story is
The European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg has set a dangerous legal precedent threatening freedom of speech and online publishing.
That doesn't mean this case sets a dangerous legal precedent, it only means Jos (the author) says it sets a dangerous legal precedent.
I dont' know how it works in Europe, but in the US, if you were in court and tried to use a court decision from another country as a precedent you'd be laughed out of the courtroom.

I wonder though, how bad were those comments that were made? There's probably more to this story. I doubt this one website was the first to have some name-calling in the comments section.
 

mailpup

Posts: 7,618   +733
TS Special Forces
This isn't about the US. Who said anything about it applying to the US? It's about Europe and the members of the European Court of Human Rights. There are 47 of them.
 
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Guest

Wow, Europe is way more screwed up than I had previously thought. (p.s. - Is this considered an inflammatory comment by an anonymous person? If so, GOOD! Deal with it Europe.)
 

yRaz

Posts: 3,480   +3,142
There goes the honest reviews of defective products. Good luck buying anything worth having. This is a small win for corporate.
Why is this even a story?

The entire population of Estonia is only slighter larger than my teeming 'metropolis' of Milwaukee. I'd bet most anyone reading this story couldn't even find them on the map.

If you do find them on the map you'll see they're next to that beacon of free speech called 'Russia' where protesting gets you serious jail time. Point being, as far as freedom of speech violations go around the world, this doesn't even make the list.
The ruling was made in France and applies to the EU, Estonia is just the location of the website