The Government is proposing that websites will be forced to identify people (commenters) who leave defamatory messages on-line.
The new powers which the Government are proposing to add to the Defamation Bill will make it easier for victims to find out who is behind messages about them left on websites without the need for costly legal action.
What does this mean to you as a Hyperlocal blogger or site owner?
To be honest probably not very much.
We know that you are (mostly) responsible, fair & balanced people who run your sites for the benefit of your local communities and that you manage your discussion threads in appropriate ways to ensure you don’t have libellous or defamatory comments on your sites. So these proposed changes could give you some added protection without actually having to do anything, almost something for nothing from the Government and it’s not every day you see that!
So if the worst happens and someone takes exception to a comment on your site and says that it is defamatory then in all probability all you will be required to do is remove the comment and provide details of the IP address from which is was posted.
By doing this under the new Government proposals Justice Secretary Ken Clarke says
Our proposed approach will mean that website operators have a defence against libel as long as they identify the authors of allegedly defamatory material when requested to do so by a complainant.
So how do you comply?
Well once you have received the solicitors letter you simply remove the comment, (I’d strongly suggest just unapproving it initially) from the site and supply the IP address that the comment allegedly came from to the solicitor.
Notice the words ‘Solicitors Letter‘, you do not have to remove any comment that you think is fair and honest opinion from your website just because someone says they don’t like it. You may choose to do this because of the way you run your hyperlocal site and the relationships you have with your readers.
Do not supply IP addresses to anyone without a solicitors letter.
As far as I can see you will not be responsible for trying to identify an individual from the IP address, this can be a time consuming and costly process and in a lot of cases be impossible. All you will be required to do is supply the IP address as it appears in your comment moderation / management panel.
So in practice what do I do?
Simple go to your comments page, like in the example from WordPress below and firstly unapprove the comment then get the IP address it was allegedly posted from.
you may even find that you have all this information already in an E-mail that was automatically sent to you by your site, depending on your configuration and platform.
And on the face of it that is all you will be required to do. By doing that you will have complied with the new proposals from the Government (as we see then right now) and added some protection to yourself in doing so.
- This isn’t law yet so don’t panic
- This is a very quick and dirty post on the proposed Government changes to the Defamation Bill to put peoples minds at rest, however things could change and we will of course update our guidance as this passes to law and becomes clearer.
- Yes the more technical amongst you will know that the IP address shown next to comments may not be the one the comment is actually posted from because of server configurations or other vagaries but that is for another post in the future.