Messageboards pose increased libel risk

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The Guardian readers’ editor and former head lawyer Siobhan Butterworth has warned that newspapers could face an increased threat of defamation from their online news and user-generated content.

She said media law had lagged behind the progress of communications technology, but news organisations needed to be aware of the dangers – such as the risk of linking to defamatory articles or storing them on a publicly-accessible online archive.

Butterworth said newspapers might only produce and update their websites for their print readership but should understand it is being read by an international audience.

She also spoke of the dangers of allowing unmoderated message boards and comment facilities, citing the libel payout to child behaviour author Gina Ford by the Mumsnet website this month. A series of defamatory statements were made about Ford on a thread on the site’s messageboard. The site said it took the comments down within 24 hours, but as a publisher of the comments, Ford held Mumsnet responsible.

‘It is obvious that you should take particular care that your users know what’s acceptable and what’s not. If you receive a complaint, consider whether to take it down.’

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