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Libel - does it only apply to real names/identities?

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by CyclingTribe, Aug 22, 2011.

  1. CyclingTribe

    CyclingTribe Well-Known Member

    I've had a forum member A claim that something forum member B has said is libelous.

    Now no real names are mentiomed, so my question is (Michael, maybe you have experience of this?) does it only count as libel if the person's real identity is known/mentioned (as opposed to just the forum username)?

    My personal thinking is that you cannot libel a username or internet handle/nickname if the real person behind it is not generally known or associated with it in such a way that it would be widely damaging to them as an individual (celebs obviously would, Mike Trenton [who?] would not).

    Oh, and I appreciate the law here in the UK may differ from elsewhere, but if anyone has any experience or can advise on libel in general it would be appreciated.

    Shaun :D
  2. Brett Peters

    Brett Peters Well-Known Member

    Watching with interest

    Apologies to GeeksChat for the false thread alert :oops:
  3. Slavik

    Slavik XenForo Moderator Staff Member

    Defamation claims in general can only be brought when the false claim is against an identifiable person, business or organisation.
    If their internet username is directly related to them or their business, eg if my company was called "Bobs repair" and my username was "Bobs repair" and I was acting on my companies behalf on that username, then that is identifiable.
    GeeksChat likes this.
  4. Floris

    Floris Guest

    As site owner you're not in between the members who have an issue. If you get a court order you can decide to comply or fight it in court that you desire to protect your user' privacy. Whether defamation of character (very hard to win and 70% gets thrown out it seems as it usually ends up being 'just an opinion') is at play is between the two members. If you have a privacy policy where it's mentioned that details aren't shared with third parties you don't have to do anything unless a court paper mentions otherwise. If a user is talking crap about another user - in regards to how it applies to you personally or your site - is simple: Does the user talking crap break forum rules by doing so? .. At which point moderation action could be applied. But at the end of the day you're just a service provider and the users' dispute can be taken elsewhere as it doesn't do any good to the community.

    at least, that's how i see it.
    Nat likes this.
  5. Slavik

    Slavik XenForo Moderator Staff Member

    Web masters however are accountable for all content on their site. If something libelious was posted on your site, irrespective of if a user posted it or not, you could also be looking down the barrel of a lawsuit.
    But you are right, libel lawsuits need a lot of hard evidence to get anywhere.
  6. CyclingTribe

    CyclingTribe Well-Known Member

    I'm not really interested in how it affects me as the site owner - I just wondered, technically, if libel could be applied to just a forum username or internet handle?
  7. dieketzer

    dieketzer Well-Known Member

    i know i shouldnt be disagreeing with you, but assuming we are discussing american law:

    of course english law is entirely something different. god help you if you can in any way have a case initiated against you in england!
    jmurrayhead likes this.
  8. Floris

    Floris Guest

    As long as you are not actively moderating the content, you're no different than an ISP offering Internet.

    When a person get arrested for computer fraud, c* porn, piracy .. the isp isn't liable.
    Now, if the ISP would be moderating the content you're getting, they're putting themselves in an awkward position. Hence why they shouldn't even consider blocking web sites, if you ask me, or throttle traffic based on where it comes from - in my eyes they're butting in and therefor make themselves as liable in any offense as the person getting filed claims against.

    Enforcing your terms of services and privacy policy as moderating your content is not what I am talking about. btw, to avoid confusion.

    That said, I am not a law student, attorney or whatever. I can be 100% wrong of course

    To be more on topic. A nickname or real name doesn't matter, in my opinion. It's the person behind it that does it and is liable, not their 'screen name' they hide behind.
  9. CyclingTribe

    CyclingTribe Well-Known Member

    Yes, but if user A and user B are both using forum usernames and not their real identities - can one realistically accuse the other of libel?
  10. jmurrayhead

    jmurrayhead Well-Known Member

    This is actually a very interesting topic. If you think about it, there are a few people out there who are well known by their forum username, which they may use in every community they are involved with. I wonder if damaging one's online reputation is covered by law somehow.
  11. Slavik

    Slavik XenForo Moderator Staff Member

    You can disagree with me all you want :cool:

    But the Op states UK law so thats what i am basing my comments on.

    Its a very thin line. As I see it a service provider eg, web hosts or isps are exempt as they are providing the raw services, as a website owner, you are effectively "publishing" any content made on your site. A forum is not a service, its a publishing engine, which the owner should be responsible for.

    This link may be of interest for you.

    Floris and Nat like this.
  12. Slavik

    Slavik XenForo Moderator Staff Member

    A bit more digging into the issue.

    English libel law holds that any party that participates in the chain of publication of a defamatory statement can be the target of a lawsuit.

    However, a traditional defense known as "innocent dissemination" is available to bookstores, printers and distributors who can prove they were unaware that their products carried defamations.

    If you are made aware of the content and do not remove it, in UK law you are liable for the content as a web master.
  13. tmb

    tmb Active Member

    I get a loooootttt of legal threats since we pretty much have no rules and I guess most sites will generally cave to even the threat of legal action. We have a really good lawyer who has helped us set up a standard of take down vs keep up and at least in the US the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove it was libelous and untrue and then also prove actual damages. Very, veryyy hard to do. Since there is no real name attached there is no way to prove any actual damages to their reputation or whatever in real life.
  14. Floris

    Floris Guest

    tmb: yes, but that's up to the courts to decide then - not the owner of the web site.
    if the site owner doesn't want trolls on the site, just remove the content and ban the user.
    If the other user doesn't let it go, ban him or her too.
  15. MGSteve

    MGSteve Well-Known Member

    That's the key bit and as caused me more than a few issues in the past. You can as a webmaster be in legal trouble if you are asked to remove a post because it libellous and you don't.

    At least in the UK.

    However, referring to the OP, I would guess (and I have no legal basis to use for this), I would imagine that as another poster said, if the user is identifiable or has been identified via the post or thread in question, then libel would be hard to prove.
  16. Floris

    Floris Guest

    I agree.

    It's one thing to protect your users by saying you don't just respond to any email by anybody claiming to be anything - and limit removal requests only via registered law firms, or court order. Same with data sharing.
  17. MGSteve

    MGSteve Well-Known Member

    Yup, that's what I tend to do. If its clearly libel (i.e. somoene's called someone a paedophile and not given any proof) then it gets removed. If its one person's word against another, I say to them both, I'll remove them if I get a legal request to do so.

    Sometimes the word legal is enough for the poster to back down and remove it themselves, other times its not. I've only had 1 legal letter so far and as the OP got one as well, he removed it before I could.
  18. Jaxel

    Jaxel Well-Known Member

    In America, we have something called "Safe Harbor Provisions". They basically state that a community operator is not responsible for the actions and content of community members, provided that the operator runs the community in good faith and can show evidence that they do their best to reduce "hate".

    Basically what this means is, if "*******" insults "bob's repair", you are not responsible for "*******'s" actions. However, if the community is not run in good faith; for instance, if the community's sole purpose is to insult "bob's repair", even though you are not doing the insulting, you are purposely creating the avenue of hate, and thus you would be responsible.
  19. Dean

    Dean Well-Known Member

    There are several other details with safe harbor as well. But as far as I know the basic concept is "I did not know about it", 'it' could be a wide variety of things.
  20. Fred Sherman

    Fred Sherman Well-Known Member

    Here is how I have handled this in the past.

    1. I am not a lawyer. I do not know whether something is libelous or not.

    2. My site's mission statement includes providing a free speech environment. Everyone that registers is made aware of this.

    3. I will not engage in censorship based on an accusation.

    4. I will cooperate fully in providing access to the post in question. With a court order, I will provide the real name of the user.

    5. If a court finds the statement to be libelous, I'll happily remove it and ban the poster for life.

    The way these laws read is that I would only be responsible if I knew statements were libel or slander. The only way I know that for sure is for a judge to rule on it. Until then it is just an accusation, which doe not make it a fact.

    As Dr. Gregory House observes weekly, "Everyone lies."
    Floris likes this.

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