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Mumsnet campaign for a change to the libel law

(84 Posts)
fakeIDpoint Fri 19-Feb-10 09:39:11

Is this story evidence of why:

a) it's good that EU and UK law has it that it's illegal to disseminate damaging +/or hurtfull information about an individual that you can't factually back up.

b) the legal system (not the law) should change so that not only wealthy people / organsations are in a position to defend themselves when others attack them (where these attacks aren't based on fact).

fakeIDpoint Fri 25-May-07 07:56:02

Hi wabbit,

You asked for my own thoughts on what should or could change for the better re the libel law.

While trying not to repeat too much of what has already been said ....

At the moment I believe it's only "best practice" and not actually legally sound, that a Web site takes down a post when they are notified. (just allowing the post if it is libelous is breaking the law!)

So firstly, I think it should be written into the law that a Web site owner (+/or ISP ?) has the protection of innocent dissemination if their site has content from external writers, up until the point they are notified that it may contain illegal content (which could be libel, state secrets, doctor patient records etc.).

I think all sites that allow users / the public to add content should have an easy and obvious system in place so that site visitors can report offensive posts to the Web site owners / management.

The site owners / management should then use their "reasonable endeavours" (see the post by prettybird on Wed 23-May-07 14:04:49) to remove or edit the post ASAP.
- to protect themselves it would also be prudent that they keep their own records of when they got the message and what they did. In case they find themselves needing to explain the time frame etc.

Well those are the bits I think should take priority.

Once the above key points are established, I think it'd be great if their was an established system (a few have been discussed in this thread) where the poster can have the liability for the comment transfered to themselves and away from the Web site.
- I see this as secondary to the above items, as there are already options to Web site owners that although not perfect (and ideal for all business models) do give the site owners identifialble site user. (ie back to my whole FakeID profile point).

I don't think it should be part of the law, but I do think sites could help themselves by allowing posters to add comments to their historical comments (and not just later in the thread).

I think the "pub convesation" contect argument is irrelvant and a diversion from the real issues. Each post has to be judged on it's own. Others and I have given our reasons below (Justine has not replied to these).

I see it as fundamental that any libel situation should require the person(s) making the apparently libelous statement should defend themselves by providing the defence. For example the defence of truth (ie factually back up their statements) and not the "victim" needing to blind defend themselves without knowing what (if any) evidence exists against them.
- I also think that if a person sues for libel and looses, their should be a MASSIVE penatly to discourage a wealthy person taking the legal route because they think they'll win by having more money.

Key is to leave individuals with protection from libel.


No I'm reading Alfie and s*dding Annie Rose for the third time today already.

wabbit Thu 24-May-07 09:22:28

Sorry Kathy.

Are you listening to the analysis of the anglo-french regnal lines on Radio 4? It is very elucidating.

Sorry, yes, this is Mumsnet, not a place of entertainment.

(Mwah, Wabbit)

Joking is very dangerous, Wabbit, as Morningpaper knows to her cost.
No more jokes on Mumsnet, please.

wabbit Thu 24-May-07 09:19:10


Don't tell me to get lost! I'll flounce!

<wanders off, muttering about being bullied>

wabbit Thu 24-May-07 09:16:47

Hey LDC, get lost, I can defend my own posts!

^ ^ ^feeble humour^ ^ ^

wabbit Thu 24-May-07 09:15:46

I think we have made several suggestion regarding libel law - would you care to share your own thoughts?

Justine made the point waaay down this thread that a post should be judged in its context. If you actually read your final link below - the one with my post on it - you will see it is a satirical thread about the way people accuse those who disagree with them of "meanness" and "bullying". Taken out of context, it would seem that I was making an accusation of bullying. In context, it becomes evident that I was just trying to be "funny" (note to self: no more gags).

The post you linked last was ironic and a joke, FakeID:

"By littlelapin on Fri 18-May-07 11:12:17
I've joined MumsNet specifically to post on this thread, and I'm asking the moderators to delete it, you're all bullying cows and I'd flounce if I knew what that meant. [HMM]

And why don't emoticons work on this stpid site! [ANGRY]


That's what the wink meant.

fakeIDpoint Thu 24-May-07 09:07:13

Hi SaintGeorge, wabbit and VeniVidiVickiQV,

All I meant to do by putting the quotes was show that other MN users have made posts with the view that there is bullying.
I recognise that other posts on the threads the quotes came from include a differet view.
- that is in part why I put the links.

Any chance I can "bully" you and anybody else into making further suggestions or comments as to how the UK libel etc. laws should / could change?


SaintGeorge Wed 23-May-07 22:12:49

fakeID - You might want to try reading the posts you link to before using them as an example of bullying.

I am PMSL too much at the 5th one to actually join the serious debate at the moment.

wabbit Wed 23-May-07 21:41:13

fakeIDpoint, you may have seen this article on Cyberbullying

"People who bully are adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information about them. The method of creating conflict is provocation which bullies delight in because they know they can always coerce at least one person to respond in a manner which can then be distorted and used to further flame and inflame people. And so it goes on. The bully then sits back and gains gratification from seeing others engage in destructive behaviour towards each other.

Many serial bullies are also serial attention-seekers. More than anything else they want attention. It doesn't matter what type of attention they get, positive or negative, as long as they can provoke someone into paying them attention. It's like a 2-year-old child throwing a tantrum to get attention from a parent. The best way to treat bullies is to refuse to respond and to refuse to engage them - which they really hate. In other words, do not reply to their postings, and on forums carry on posting without reference to their postings as if they didn't exist. In other words, treat nobodies as nobodies."

Interesting, this describes what we call a "troll" - someone who comes on to deliberately cause fights. The MN community tend to be good at spotting them, and MNHQ has had occasion to ban some. I would say that we are pretty good at policing ourselves in that respect.

With thousands of women posting, with hundreds of different viewpoints and beliefs, there will always be discord. It's very easy to cry bully when you are rigourously disagreed with. But that is NOT bullying and in fact devalues the word.

Regarding your point below about your paedophile libel scenario - since we seem to be going round in circles, I will refer you back to my post of Mon 21-May-07 19:44:59

VeniVidiVickiQV Wed 23-May-07 21:03:53

fakeID - You have found 5 examples, over a period of 5 years - I really dont think that is evidence for your assertion that Mumsnet encourages a bullying culture. I think that is an unfair assessment of what you have seen here.

I think, if you looked hard enough, you could find any societal trend on Mumsnet.

This is simply because of the large volume of members that cut across a vast section of society in the UK and around the world.

You could do a search for the word "lentil", and make the assertion that Mumsnet encourages a hippy culture due to the volume of posts on it, or, do a search for the word Boden, and make the assertion that we are all Boden-wearing middle-class women. Again, it wouldnt be true.

I think, in order for you to make such assertions about Mumsnet, you would need much more behind-the-scenes information about just how many posts are made, how many threads are started, how many posts are deleted, and how many of those are by regular posters, and how many posters there are actively talking on MN. I dont know how willing MNHQ would be to provide this information, but I do know from posting somewhere else, that so far over 1700 new posters have joined in May 2007. They have been averaging 1700-2600 new members since the start of the year.

wabbit Wed 23-May-07 18:30:38

If you think MN would delete this thread, fakeID, you fundamentally misunderstand the way this place works.

Why on earth would it be deleted, FakeID?
I have seen forums that are politer than Mumsnet (Classic Boats never seems to degenerate into abuse and bullying ) but by God I have seen a lot worse.

fakeIDpoint, you've not frequented the "right" forums if you think MN is abusive and bullying, frankly.

I used to post on a (pretty heavily moderated) public forum on aol and some of the stuff that stayed on there was un-be-liev-able, quite apart from some of the stuff that was pulled. This was in 1997, or thereabouts, so (crikey, feel old now) 10 years ago.

I don't think you can treat an internet forum like a book with the publishers responsible for the content. Unless I could perhaps go and scribble in books on shelves and have the author be liable? [somewhat flippant]

fakeIDpoint Wed 23-May-07 17:30:47

Hi morningpaper + wabbit,

Fair enough.
Yes, with the number of posts MN has, to not find posts that others feel there is bullying would be surprising!
Quite happy to concede that the majority view is that there is not bullying as a norm, just "vigorous debate".

However in relation to context and Justine's pub argument. I wrote that I saw more abuse (to others) on MN that I've seen on other forums.
There is a BIG difference between that post and if my post had stated as a fact the libellous lie that my neighbour was a paedophile. Such a post (assuming I have no evidence to support the claim, which I don’t!) would remain. Even if other posts argued that he was not, I would have given worldwide access to a lie that is hurtful and damaging to him.

Yes context is important.
But the context of other posts can't (IMHO) be used to say that a particular post is consequently not libellous. It either is or it isn't. If I had proof that my neighbour was a paedophile, it would still be a fact if others argued he wasn't. If a lie / un-provable, the post would still be libel.


PS I wonder if this post is going to be allowed to stay on MN or will it deleted?
- it has some "vigerous debate" but also some potentially usefull suggestions for changes to the law. So I'd see it as a shame if it was removed.

tatt Wed 23-May-07 16:44:41

If I could be bothered ( I have better things to do) I'm sure I could find many more posts where people are very unhappy with the way they have been treated on mumsnet.

I was thinking of financial turnover = more resources to deal with the problem. High volume of posts would make it harder to detect a problem.

It is the nature of internet sites that you can't see when a poster is upset by what you say. In RL you could and would probably apologise - or at least you'd stop making it worse/ other people would intervene / you'd be arrested for disturbing the peace. The person who was upset could always walk off knowing that it wasn't in print to be found by anyone. They don't all have the means to hire libel lawyers or mumsnet would constantly be facing actions for libel.

fakeid - I posted information about the company I was annoyed with on other sites that were less commercial . I didn't feel annoyed enough to devote my life to it.

You have not commented on the suggestion that all websites should have a "report offensive post" provision and that this could provide a useful way of limiting any potential damages? It would also allow mumsnet (or other sites) to see what its potential users really thought.

morningpaper Wed 23-May-07 16:39:53

FakeID I think you are just looking through the archives for the word bullying and with x million posts I'm sure there are LOTS of people who feel they have been bullied over the last 5 years or so - I don't think that would be any different from Usenet or any other talkboard. But that is very different from claiming that Mumsnet is fostering a "culture of bullying". There ARE a lot of robust debates, but that is the nature of a discussion forum. Sometimes they degenerate into fights - sometimes there will be apologies the morning after....

<interuption by Annoying Children, will finish post later>

wabbit Wed 23-May-07 15:07:30

Gosh, 4 posts from.... umm, Justine, how many posts over the last 5 years?

And the last one by meeee! Hurrah! It would seem that sarcasm is dead, or my use of the emoticon is not as adept as I had assumed .

Perhaps we should write something into the law about having to have a sense of humour before being allowed on talk boards.

In all seriousness, I think you have just proved Justine's point about the necessity for a post to be read in the context of the entire thread. Each of the first 4 posts did contain comments about bullying, yes, but also many comments disagreeing.

From the first thread you cite:

"I... have seen a lot more poeple getting shirty and using the "b" word because someone has disagreed with them than I se actual bullying.!"

"i dont really see signs of clique-ness or bullying "

With a forum this large, you can find evidence of ANYTHING if you search hard enough.

Must dash, the ladies who drink wine have just arrived! <lush>

fakeIDpoint Wed 23-May-07 14:45:10
prettybird Wed 23-May-07 14:04:49

fakeIDpoint comments: "In relation to "expeditious" do you feel there should be a specified time frame or an established principle similar to the legal "best endevours" concept ? (the latter seems more logical to me"

I'm not a lawyer, but often have to work with our Legal Department in drawing together contracts. One of the things that I have learnt from them is that "best endeavours" is an extremely onerous requirement and that as a company we should only ever agree to "reasonable endeavours" (it doesn't stop us trying to get a "best endeabours" obligation put on the other party though! ).

In Mumsnet's case "best endeavours" could mean that they had to have someone permanently on call and with immediate access to the internet to allow controviersal posts to be pulled. Whatever it takes to ensure that a post is pulled immediately - no matter how much it costs.

Reasonable endeavours would be much more, well, reasonable - or could tie in with the suggestions made elsewhere as to time frames in which posts have to be removed by.

edam Wed 23-May-07 13:45:25

LL, agree that one of the issues here is that the law hasn't yet caught up with the way the internet operates. I don't think websites should necessarily be regarded as publishers of user-generated content in every case.

The law has to recognise the way that the web works, that sites just can't vet comments before they go up, and that making sites just take down any comments that someone objects to is unfair and a denial of free speech.

The libel laws are supposed to protec people (roughly) against unjust criticism, not prevent anyone ever criticising anyone else. Otherwise we couldn't say Tony Bair is a <<insert chosen insult here>>, for instance. It's not good for the rule of law if all criticism is prohibited, which is, in effect, the situation at the moment, given that websites seem to have to take down any comment that is the subject of a complaint.

morningpaper Wed 23-May-07 13:40:39

"I agree with your view that Mumsnet intervenes too rarely. It's one thing to allow free speech, another to allow (and therefore promote?) bullying and aggression. I've been using forum chat rooms for over 10 years and I've never come across the level of abuse as seen on MN. I see this as, in part, due to the culture that has been allowed to develop and persist. ie if other forums don't have this problem, but the same level of passion about views, why does it exist and persist on MN?"

This is a very interesting point of view which I find quite shocking. I also find it a bit unlikely, because if MN was the place where you would find the worst bullying on the web, why would it be so hugely popular? I've rarely seen anything on MN that I would describe as bullying - and if I have, people have been 'told off' by other users pretty sharpish. I would be interested to know what sort of thing you mean (notwithstanding any threads re. the McCann family which has generated massive hysteria across ALL talkboards - although other sites are deleting McCann threads as they appear, and a lot of Mumsnetters would rather this was being done here).

I have been using talkboards for 14 years and I think that lots of certain types of discussions end up in big fights (cf Godwin's law) and always have - I cut my teeth in the early 90's on Usenet arguing the toss over the finer points of theology... (not realising at the time of course than 15 years later I would occasionally come across my old posts and cringe with embarassment) - I think that the internet/usenet has a method of communication and debate resolution all of its own and until you are used to it, it might seem pretty rough and crude to start with, but it's a great way to learn and thrash things out.

What I have never seen though is a discussion forum with the massive throughput of Mumsnet - I'm sure there must be some! - I'd be grateful for other examples where, for example, you could end up with up to 1,000 posts in 24 hours on one thread.

wabbit Wed 23-May-07 13:32:21

Interesting article.

Far be it from me to argue with a trained lawyer, but I do have one question.

Mr Jaffa cites Section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996, stating that Mumsnet was a publisher and thus could not claim the libel defence.

I've pasted the text of the Act below:

1. - (1) In defamation proceedings a person has a defence if he shows that-

(a) he was not the author, editor or publisher of the statement complained of,

(b) he took reasonable care in relation to its publication, and

(c) he did not know, and had no reason to believe, that what he did caused or contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement.

(2) For this purpose "author", "editor" and "publisher" have the following meanings, which are further explained in subsection (3)-

"author" means the originator of the statement, but does not include a person who did not intend that his statement be published at all;

"editor" means a person having editorial or equivalent responsibility for the content of the statement or the decision to publish it; and

"publisher" means a commercial publisher, that is, a person whose business is issuing material to the public, or a section of the public, who issues material containing the statement in the course of that business.

(3) A person shall not be considered the author, editor or publisher of a statement if he is only involved-

(a) in printing, producing, distributing or selling printed material containing the statement;

(b) in processing, making copies of, distributing, exhibiting or selling a film or sound recording (as defined in Part I of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) containing the statement;

(c) in processing, making copies of, distributing or selling any electronic medium in or on which the statement is recorded, or in operating or providing any equipment, system or service by means of which the statement is retrieved, copied, distributed or made available in electronic form;

(d) as the broadcaster of a live programme containing the statement in circumstances in which he has no effective control over the maker of the statement;

(e) as the operator of or provider of access to a communications system by means of which the statement is transmitted, or made available, by a person over whom he has no effective control.

Section 3d covers the comparison I previously made of the BBC with a live transmission. Surely section 3e applies to Mumsnet and other forum owners? What control do they have over posters, with the exception of deleting posts when made aware (as was done in this case)? Thus the law appears to suggest that Mumsnet would NOT be held to be the publisher and thus WOULD have the defense previously mentioned.

(this is littlelapin, by the way)

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 23-May-07 13:08:45

"Won a libel victory" - now that's an interesting take from the Times given that MN made a "contribution" to costs and paid no damages isn't it? Wonder if the Times will now feel able to re-publish Heather Brooke's article ...

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 23-May-07 13:02:56

Ah ha - our old friend!

fakeIDpoint Wed 23-May-07 12:23:17

Hi littlelapinWearsBoden,

Re your post, Wed 23-May-07 09:21:37.
The addendum to a post idea is great. As you say it would prevent deliberate abuse fo the system.


fakeIDpoint Wed 23-May-07 12:21:41

Anybody seen this article in the Times ?
- Websites like Mumsnet are not above the law

littlelapinWearsBoden Wed 23-May-07 09:22:57

Can I add an addendum - "possibly because" not "but"

littlelapinWearsBoden Wed 23-May-07 09:21:37

2 points.

With regard to post-post editing, you could very easily post something inflammatory, designed to provoke scores of "get lost" responses (I am being polite ) and then amend your OP so it seems like, for example, you said "I need help with my child" and loads of people were abusive to you.

I would prefer a system whereby you can add an addendum to your post; it quite often happens that someone starts a thread and the OP is misconstrued; the explanation comes several posts up, everyone misses it and a pointless argument ensues.

Secondly, I would strongly refute that there is any culture of bullying or aggression on Mumsnet. It seems to be something that people like to throw at us, possibly but this isn't a "fluffy bunnies pink ticker" type site. It IS down to earth, you WILL get an honest response. If you come on here expecting validation and not debate, you will be disappointed. But this is NOT bullying!

In practise, when abuse and/or bullying behaviour DOES occur, there is a strong response by other posters against that behaviour. I would contend that this is better than heavy handed policing from on high.

fakeIDpoint Wed 23-May-07 08:52:35

Hi Tatt,

Disapointing that the site didn't want to take on the hassle. I assume you've looked for other sites or even the option of your own blog to publish the information you have?

I like the idea of linking the time for take down from notification to the turnover (which I assume to be post turnover and not financial?).

I agree with your view that Mumsnet intervenes too rarely. It's one thing to allow free speech, another to allow (and therefore promote?) bullying and aggression. I've been using forum chat rooms for over 10 years and I've never come across the level of abuse as seen on MN. I see this as, in part, due to the culture that has been allowed to develop and persist. ie if other forums don't have this problem, but the same level of passion about views, why does it exist and persist on MN?

I look forward to further discussion, in particular responses from Justine and anybody else to the ideas and issues raised.
- given the arguments presented, do Justine + others still hold to the pub conversation / total conversation defence?
- would MN and it's memebers like the idea of adopting one of the suggested payment structures to prove the identity of a poster?
- how does everybody feel about the "expeditious" suggestions?
- would MN benefit from a system where users can amend their own posts?


tatt Tue 22-May-07 10:57:25

I offered to supply information to the website publisher, they weren't interested -too much hassle for them. So my right of free speech was infringed by a large corporation with all the power of its advertising budget......

I like littlelapin's idea too, I think it could work if it was a payment at the time. However I could still pay it and declare my credit card stolen/ that it wasn't me, your honour so you might also want some further confirmation of "ownership".

Another possibility is to restrict the amount of damages that can be claimed where a so called "libel" has been promptly removed by the site owners from an unmoderated board. I agreed that the timing should depend on the website but the law might include a statement that no website could be prosecuted if the comment was removed within, say, four hours of a complaint being received for companies with a specified turnover and one day for those below the cut off. That might mean an improvement in efficiency for a small site. They would still be able to argue if they had done the best they could but then they might risk court.

There are many website where users post personal opinions of companies /products. I find these sites invaluable, even if the comments may be written by employees/ people who are unreasonable. I want to see free speech continue.

OTOH free speech doesn't include the right to be offensive. Mumsnet intervenes too rarely to control rudeness that would not be tolerated in my local pub. There should be an easier way to report offensive posts. It would also provide a good defense in court - of the ..thousand users of our website that day none reported the comment as offensive. If ...thousand users didn't see the comment as offensive it can't have ben widely seen or if it was be that damaging to someone's reputation can it?

fakeIDpoint Tue 22-May-07 10:00:53

Hi littlelapinWearsBoden,

Your psot, Tue 22-May-07 09:39:04.

Superb idea. Love it.
Easy, workable .....

It could perhaps also be payment from a verified PayPal account, or any other system that means they verify their ID.

littlelapinWearsBoden Tue 22-May-07 09:46:09
littlelapinWearsBoden Tue 22-May-07 09:39:46

Still trying to look through the morass of sites about US law!

littlelapinWearsBoden Tue 22-May-07 09:39:04

While paying to belong to a forum would undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on a lot of forums, how about this:

A post is made that is considered libellous/contentious/whatever.
The forum owners withdraw the post on notification, and attempt to contact the poster.
If the poster wishes the comment to remain, they pay a small charge via credit card etc allowing the aforementioned verification. This would be a one time charge. (I am thinking something nominal, but also sufficient to cover the costs incurred by the forum providers)
If the poster cannot be contacted, or declines to pay the small charge, the post remains deleted.

maisym Tue 22-May-07 09:38:18

the thing about users being responsible if their posts are libelous is that do posters know well enough what is libel and what's ok to write?

even though it's written it does feel like talking on here - rather than writing a piece in a mag, book or newspaper.

fakeIDpoint Tue 22-May-07 09:36:07

Hi littlelapinWearsBoden,

Yup, I defenitely did have a bee in my bonnet.
I felt I was banging on and on to get proposals for change as opposed to just repeat, after repeat of just complaints about the current situation.

But, the bee has well and truly flown off as the conversation has started discussing proposals. In no small part due to Justine herself (thanks Justine).

Did you find anything in the US libel laws that you feel could help improve the UK situation ?


fakeIDpoint Tue 22-May-07 09:28:59

Developing the idea of transfering the liability to the poster (ie away from the Web site owners etc.)

Fundamental is being able to prove the identity of the poster.

Microsoft + AOL have tried to solve this problem with their .Net Passport and the Liberty Allience respectively. But neither have worked because their motives aren't trusted.
This would only work on a large WWW scale if there was a de-cetranlised system.

The only solutions I'm aware of that could deal with this are:

1.1 Something like the Augmented Social Network (ASN) who influenced Owen Davies to set up i-names (
)on the OASISS standards. A system where users create a one time secure profile, that could have proven / verified personal details (same way as you verify your PayPal account).

1.2 The Canadian SCIP (skip)(
) system are also working with iNames. The objective being to create a trusted potential killer app, that if linked to forum profile would solve this problem.

2. Require users to pay to belong to a forum so that if required by the law they could be traced by their credit card details.

3. Require users to pay a small amount once, by credit card, to create an identity that they can then use on multiple sites. Again if required, they could be traced by their credit card details. A system along these lines is used by many adult sites to verify that their site visitors are adults and not minors (

I don't think that any of these ideas are flawless, but the could be a good start point.

Compare their potential to a site that allows somebody to create a fake ID and then start posting libelous or otherwise illegal material. Given that there are such alternatives, if a Web site allows anonymous posting then, in my opinion, they need to take some of the responsability.


littlelapinWearsBoden Tue 22-May-07 09:12:24

Golly fakeID, you do have a bee in your bonnet...

"Unlike Justine of Mumsnet fame, who so far can only complain that the situation (IMHO) makes life difficult for her as a journalist and Web site owner." (from Guardian piece comments)

Am I going cross-eyed, or did Justine not state below that she isn't a journalist?

I hope this is not offensive - please report me if so, I am sure MNHQ will remove the post speedily - but you do appear to be pursuing a personal agenda in this matter.

In terms of "expeditious" (I am growing heartily sick of that word), presumably having a "best practise" law would lead to more court cases arguing about the definition of best practise; surely we are trying to reduce litigation.

Anyway, off to research US libel laws (and play with my son).

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 22-May-07 08:43:43

Interesting article on this topic in yesterday's Guardian

fakeIDpoint Tue 22-May-07 07:41:37

Hi Justine,

Thankyou for your detailed reply. MOST of all thankyou for continuing to reply to my often hard comments. Like you, I feel that improving this area of the law would be a great step forward.

I'm also pleased that others have joined the debate, which will hopefully go into some detail that allows progress on suggesting potential alternative solutions.

In relation to "expeditious" do you feel there should be a specified time frame or an established principle similar to the legal "best endevours" concept ? (the latter seems more logical to me).

Sorry, but I think "we are prepared to listen, though, rather than simply tell others what the solution should be" is a cop out. Can you not make suggestions as to possible solutions ? That wouldn't be telling others what to do, but constructive debate towards a potential solution as opposed to just complaining. But heck, that's just my repeated opinion.

In terms of forums being convesations, a lot of sites have the facility for posters to go in and amend their own posts. (I often use this to correct my terrible spelling and typing !). Mumsnet doesn't have this option, which would allow an "off the cuff joke remark" to be retracted by the poster.
But this creates the situation that you can post lies / hurtful comments so long as others balance it out.
- But what then happens if yours is the only post !!!!
You have yet to reply on this point.

That is why I feel the law is currently correct in that each post must be able to stand up on it's own. It should have the defence of truth / fact.

I've replied to Littlelapin re the transfer of liability idea, which I like! But want to work out the detail of. But heck, there has to be the point at which it is passed to a lawyer. I just thought it'd be good to get as much of the scenario thought through.

Sorry for being wrong and thinking you were a historically a "full-time journalist" and that you consider that potentially offensive. It was an assumption based on the number of media articles I've seen that appeared (to me) to be by you, and also comments such as those on the Musmnet About U
About Us page where it says ""Mumsnet was set up in January 2000 by Justine Roberts, a football journalist ....".
I was just making the point that a lot of the "campaign for change" is by those who could benefit from a change that might not benefit individuals wishing to protect their reputations.

Again, thankyou for your on going replies.


fakeIDpoint Tue 22-May-07 07:16:37

Hi tatt,
Did you present the evidence to the web publisher?
- that way they would have the defence of truth if the company asked for the post to be removed.

Because for the company as well as the Web site, the legal process is expensive. If they saw that the would be "outed" as a bully when there was also clear factual evidence regarding the post against them, they would at the very least think twice before proceeding.

The company may well have bigger pockets than the Website in question, but if there is clear evidence that the post is true, there are lots of lawyers / barristers about who would work on a "no win no fee" basis.

BUT this is a big amount of hassle (for both sides). So I'd understand the websites perspective even though I agree this is impacting your freedem of speech.

For me, it comes down to how far you want to take it, in order to defend your freedem of speech.

Don't give up !


fakeIDpoint Tue 22-May-07 07:09:54

Hi littlelapin,

In response to your post on Mon 21-May-07 19:44:59

My understanding from having spoken with Internet lawyers re forum posts from a Webmaster / Website owner perspective is that these people do have an unwritten "innocent discemination" concept up until the point they are made aware of any potentially illegal content.
- this protects them from your example attack.
It would, I agree, be good for this to be written into UK law.
The lawyers advise me that provided a webmaster / website owner follows "best practice" they would have little chance of loosing a case. They should have a clear and easy system for anybody to report abuse and they should take action ASAP.
- I'm not sure making this a specific time frame would actually help webmasters / website owners. For example a small site with very little traffic Vs a big site with thousands of posts and site visitors a day creates a very different situation. So long as the webmaster / website owners can show they did all that was possible to deal with complaint.
My experience of forums suggests the following has always worked VERY well:
1. Remove the offensive post ASAP
2. Contact the poster to let them know why and remind them of the site policy to remove illegal ...... posts
3. Remind the forum community of the same.

I'm not sure leaving the post live, but with a disclaimer would be a good idea, as it would still leave what could be a lie, live to the world.

In terms of the poster taking responsiblity I'm not sure how a Website would veryify the identity of the poster etc. to make this all legally binding. One of the reasons the current situation works in terms of pressure to keep illegal postings / lies etc. off a site is that the Web site owner / webmaster / hosting company are usually easy to identify.

There is also the issue of aggrivation and website owner contributions (PLEASE I'm not saying in any of this, that Mumsnet have ever done this, I'm just making theoretical point). What happens if the posts are by the owners of a website? What happens if the website owners encourage or create a culture of attacking an individual or organisation. This potential means that Web site owners should do everything possible to make sure such a culture never develops.

Also, if somebody (for exaple) made a libelous comment about Justine on Mumsnet, would she have to sue Mumsnet? The alternative would be that she takes the comment down, which could be an attack on freedom of speech !!

Back to the 2 main points, do you have any thoughts on what "expeditious" would be. (I feel it should remain a "best endevours" type scenario, as this is an already established part of UK law).

How would the transfer of ownership of a potentially libelous post to the poster actually come about?


tatt Mon 21-May-07 23:17:11

should I declare I am not a journalist? I have had a remark removed by a web publisher on the grounds that it could be considered libellous. This was a comment about a company who I had taken to a regulatory body, the regulator had ruled they were at fault and the company had accepted it! That is a denial of freedom of speech.

tatt Mon 21-May-07 23:13:09

it is not always a simple matter to change UK law. Private members bills are not generally well drafted unless they get government support and a poorly drafted bill helps no-one. I don't personally know what act would need to be passed or existing act amended but these things can always be done. It takes time.

The comments about seeing a remark in context - well that is part of assessing the potential damage to someone's reputation. If a case ever came to court the jury would be encouraged to look at the remark in context as well as how much publicity that remark had actually received. ( see Charleston and Another -v- News Group Newspapers Ltd and Another [1995] 2 AC 65

31 Mar 1995
Lord Nicholls Defamation Casemap

A plaintiff in defamation proceedings may not arbitrarily split off different parts of a publication without good reason.") Whether the comments appear elsewhere is up to the "publisher " of the other site and not the liability of the site where they first appear.

Part of the jury's assessment would be whether a remark by one person (say an individual unnamed mother on a parenting site) would actually seriously damage the reputation of the person claiming defamation. We should reinstate the eroded right of juries to decide damages. They have, in my view, often more sense than judges.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 21-May-07 22:37:18

Hi Fakeidpoint,

On the question of how expeditious is expeditious, as pointed out in this article - whilst there is no guidance on defamation law, The Terrorism Act does include guidance on removal of internet postings with regard to the encouragement of acts of terrorism and the dissemination of terrorist publications. One would imagine that most regard incitement to terrorism as at least, if not more serious an offence than defamation. So we would suggest that two business days - bearing in mind that many web operations are under-resourced - would seem like a reasonable time period. But we are prepared to be persuaded that a slightly longer or shorter time period might be appropriate. We are of the view that this needs clarifying, as are many, many other people. We are calling for the law to be updated - we are prepared to listen, though, rather than simply tell others what the solution should be.

With regard to viewing conversations in the round, as we've said, we think it would be sensible to ask judge and jury to view internet conversations as exactly what they are - conversations - so an off the cuff joke remark that is obviously and rapidly refuted and revealed to be exactly that, should not be regarded as defamatory. In other words juries should be directed to take into account the whole discussions and not just individual postings on threads. If not, litigious persons could be encouraged to instiute proceedings on the basis of a single post, when, in fact, the damage to their reputation is neglible. Such a change in the law, would, in effect, be an acknowlegdement that the internet is a different medium to print - a conversation rather than just the written word - and therefore requires judges and juries to treat it as such - clearly though, a libel that severely damaged someone's reputation would still be a libel.

On the third point, our position, as I've outlined a few times now (and Littlelapin has too) is that contentious posts could be withdrawn until the site had a chance to contact the poster directly and confirm that they were happy to take on the liability. You ask what's stopping us taking this course of action now and the simple answer is that the law is, sadly. (Though I'm glad you seem to acknowledge that it's a workable solution - progress at last ). As you know well, complainants have the right to sue who they like and under the current law, as we understand it, if a libel appears on Mumsnet - whether or not someone else takes full responsibility for that libel - we can be sued. Saying that someone else was prepared to stand by the comments, is (absurdly we agree) no defence, if the complainant chooses to sue us (and not the third party) and a libel has been committed.

On point four and the issue with regard to transfering the burden of proof to the complainant, though we do see where the those who advocate this change are coming from on this, we agree there are some good arguments against adopting this change and we are not, nor have ever actually advocated it. We raised this issue merely because you implied that our view on libel was somehow out on a limb somehow, whereas in fact many would wish for a more radical reform of the libel law than the one we are suggesting.

On your point 5, "you appear to complain that the libel law affects everyone" the point we are making is fairly obvious - because it's so easy to be a publisher these days (as opposed to the pre-web world) - blogs, bulletin boards etc - many people are at the mercy of an unclear libel law, as opposed to just a tiny minority of traditional media owners.

And finally, on your sixth point - you are wrong, I've never been a full-time journalist and I am not a part-time journalist now - MN is more than enough for me. I was once a football and cricket writer but I was very much part-time - weekends and the odd week night only. (Thinking about it, I may well have to sue you for such an insinuation). My dh is a indeed a journalist but, like many women these days, I do try to think for myself as much as I can manage and not just borrow his (no doubt as you say, "biased") opinions.
Anyway that's me and my personal biases sorted out - what about you?

Hopefully, you can acknowlege at last that we are making some proposals and not just complaining. Of course, whether you agree with them is entirely another matter. Needless to say you're more than welcome to voice your dissent here on Mumsnet.



littlelapin Mon 21-May-07 19:44:59


I personally do not agree with the "pub conversation" analogy. Such conversations are ephemeral, only to be revisited by means of third party reporting (or, I suppose, tape recording but I assume that is rare!) Forum posts, on the other hand, become part of the great soup that is the Internet and can be found again with ease. I have made the point before that when you make a post on a forum such as this, you should be aware that it will be Googleable in the near future.

That said, I do not believe that bulletin board owners should be held responsible for the posts of others. It would be very easy to close down Mumsnet by coming onto the forum, using a false email address and an internet cafe PC, and posting defamatory comments about, for example, notoriously litigious celebrities. You could then dissiminate these comments via blogs etc to increase their visibility. If the forum owners do not have the innocent dissemination defense, they are exposed to malicious attack.

If the BBC interviews someone on live TV, and that person makes a defamatory statement, is the BBC liable? Perhaps if they do not take steps such as removing that section from any repeat showings. If a newspaper vendor sells a journal containing defamatory statements, is he liable? Perhaps if he does not remove those journals from his shop. I would contend that this is a similar situation.

I believe that we need clear and up to date libel laws that take account of the nature of modern communications.

We need a set timeframe for "expeditious" action, and a definition on whether that timeframe begins when the offending comment is posted, or when a complaint is made.

I would suggest that posts which suggest that someone has committed an illegal act (as with your paedophile example) are either deleted, or tagged with some sort of disclaimer. In the same way that newspapers can report that someone is an "alleged paedophile" but can quote direct allegations from third parties.

Contentious posts could be withdrawn until the owners of a forum had a chance to contact the poster directly and confirm that they were happy to take on the liability (as Justine has suggested).

These are my views as a forum user as well as "web designer" (apologies for the previously omitted space).

fakeIDpoint Mon 21-May-07 18:22:41

Hi littlelapin,

Sorry, terrible ommision in my reply.

- What do you feel about the current libel law?
- As a "webdesigner" do you have any proposals that would better the current situation?


fakeIDpoint Mon 21-May-07 18:16:47

Hi littlelapin,

Thank you for your post.

I don't think my posts leave my position at all unclear.

I agree that all areas of law have the potential for improvement. I look forward to the Mumsnet / Justine campaign for change moving on from complaining that change is needed, to actually making alternative proposals.

The whole point of the fakeID "name" is to make this point.

It's also important (for me) that I am making these posts as a personal individual and not a representative of a company or any other individuals.
- I explicitly sent Justine a personal email before I started my comments so that she knows exactly who I am. Even though I recognise that the Data Protection Act means Justine as a Mumsnet company officer can't reveal who I am, I felt that was only fair and reasonable (just my perspective). She consequently has my personal contact details if she feels she wants to make direct contact.

As a webdesigner, you will appreciate that if Justine / Mumsnet do achieve a change in the law that would have a big impact on the UK Web site industry.
- as well as anybody who uses and views forums and other Web sites.

Sorry if the point that Justine is a journalist is seen as a harsh personal attack on why she has her position. Although I think her position has an impact on her position, it was more meant to be a point that the media (for sake of a better expression "Fleet Street") have a vested interest in the law changing in their favour. Hence my question as to whether there are posts by non journalists, non Web site owners and non lawyers (who love the law changing as it means more work!) feeling that the law should change?

I often make "strong" statements in a desire to progress the Justine / Mumsnet + media comments from complaining that change is needed, to actually debating alternative proposals.
So far the few glimers in this direction are (IMHO) less sound than the current situation. I hope that Justine (or any other person) can show me and others a better solution that the current situation.

Although I don't reply as to who I am, I hope this awnsers why!


littlelapin Mon 21-May-07 17:16:16

fakeIDpoint, do you think that, if your occupation and allegiances are germane to your postings, you should declare yourself?

Since you suggest that Justine's views are biased by her journalistic background (of which we are all aware - because we know who she is), it would be only fair to be straightforward and allow us to judge your responses in the same light.

I am basing this entirely on amateur detective work given a) you signed a post with your name below, and b) as a webdesigner, I am in the habit of looking at the designers of other sites. Profuse apologies if I am off the mark.

fakeIDpoint Sun 20-May-07 10:29:18

Hi Justine,

Thank you for your reply.
I still feel that you are not making any suggestions.
You are saying that change is needed. You are also giving the areas where you feel that change should be made. BUT you are NOT proposing what the change should be?
Sorry for not making myself clear about this.
Hopefully this reply will allow you to clear up the issues.

Can you please give your suggestions?

1. What would YOU consider expeditious?
- Within this I see problems in that some Web site forums and blogs are more popular than others, so should this be accounted for?
- I am keen to hear your specific proposal.

2. You think the context of a post should be taken into account. Can you please explain how this would work?
- If I understand correctly you relate this to the pub conversation analogy.
- But how would you view a forum post (for example) about my neighbour being a paedophile. If 10 people then say in their opinion he is not, the post still remains. If one person says (again for example) my neighbour was a drink driver, and 10 said he was not, the post and damage is still done and remains. If the statements are lies, meant to hurt and damage the reputation of my neighbour, there should (I believe) be recourse against the publication of the statements. If I put posters all down the street that the example neighbour was a drink driving paedophile, but the gossip chatter was that he was neither, the damage would still be done.
- So are you saying I should be able to post / publish damaging lies about a People so long as others are going to argue that they are lies?

3. You think that bulletin boards etc. should not be liable for the posts made on them.
- Am I correct that your suggestion is that if Mumsnet were advised by the "target / victim" of a post they'd:
a) Take it down.
b) Get the originator of post in question to clearly identify themselves and accept legal responsibility for the post.
c) Providing (b) is achieved, you’d put the post back.
- If this is the case, I don't see what's to stop you doing that. Are you honestly saying you don't think a judge or lawyer would accept this as you being responsible in trying to balance freedom of speech with the law?
- What is to stop you doing this now?

4. You say that the UK law is wrong due to the burden of proof.
BUT, if the burden of proof is with the target / victim please explain the following to me:
- My example neighbour now has to prove they aren't a paedophile or drink driver. How are they going to do this if they don't know what evidence (if any) I have against them? My example neighbour could gather 1000 witnesses saying they have never seen him drink drive, but if I have one example police report, those 1000 witness statements are irrelevant.
- I don't understand how the burden or proof can be with the target / victim unless the accuser is first required to prove / back up their statement. Which is how the current law stands?
- Can you please explain this to me?

5. You appear to complain that "libel law affects everyone", but of course it does. It affects anybody WHO WISHES TO PUBLISH / BROADCAST a view to the world. Are you saying it shouldn't?

6. As I understand it, you used to be a full time journalist and still do this on a part time basis (Mumsnet and motherhood keep you more than busy). I also believe your husband is still a full time journalist and that you have extensive journalist contacts.

Perhaps your view is part biased because of this background?
Many if not all UK publishers (including newspapers and Web sites) would of course like the UK libel laws to be less severe.
- For the system to be easier FOR THEM.
- It would make THEIR jobs easier and any potential liability less.
I feel that the vast majority of any sentiment for a change, as reported in the media, is because of this and not because the law is seen as any more fundamentally wrong or unjust as any other section of UK law. The media has a very strong self-interest in change. Freedom to publish lies with impunity would be of great benefit to journalists.
Individual targets of libellous comments do not share this desire for change. You imply that this whole issue is wealthy versus poor, big versus small. Perhaps it is in fact the big machine of “Fleet Street” and the many wealthy +/or vocal voices of Web site owners wanting change? This big voice, this big machine against indivduals who just wish to protect themselves from hurtfull lies and damaging statements?

I recognise that the law is not always fair and just. That it can be costly.
BUT you are yet to make specific proposals on what should be changed:

Using the same numbers as above:

1. What would you consider expeditious?

2. How should context be considered when this would allow a lie to be published?
- Are you saying that we should be allowed to publicly lie about others when this has the potential to cause hurt and damage to others?

3. Are you saying there should be a framework / structure (and can you please detail this) for publishers to transfer the liability to the identifiable writer?

4. Are you suggesting that victims of libel should defend themselves without knowing what (if any) evidence there is to back up the accusations being made against them?

5. Are you saying that individuals should be exempt from the libel laws?

5. Can you provide any examples of this “campaign for change” that is not by those who have a vested interest in the system being less onerous for publishers?

I look forward to your reply.


JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-May-07 09:41:58

Sorry for the delayed response – things been a bit hectic.

FakeIDpoint, you are essentially making the same point again - i.e. we're not making any suggestions - so I'll keep repeating our suggestions (as outlined in our original statement) in the hope that they’ll get through:
We think three things need looking at. First we need clear guidance on the practice of notice and takedown – how expeditious is expeditious. Secondly we think the context of potentially defamatory comments to be taken into account in the eyes of the law. So if a single poster makes a defamatory comment but is immediately rebutted by a large number of users we think that it should not be considered defamatory.

Finally we would like overall consideration of whether in fact bulletin boards should be held responsible for comments posted by others – comments that they don’t necessarily adopt or approve? In the US they are not – they are protected by an innocent dissemination defense.

But given that individuals have a right to protect their reputations and that many posters on bulleting boards are anonymous, a good alternative would be to allow a transfer of liability to the originator of post in question, were that person to identify himself and declare their willingness to justify publication. (Incidentally I didn’t say the posts would remain up during that transfer time – normal rules of notice and take down would naturally apply).

In this case the complainant would have someone to hold accountable and the originator would not be denied his rights to freedom of speech. Doesn't this just make common sense?

Many people - particularly in the legal profession would wish for even further reform. They believe the English libel laws are unfairly weighted towards the plaintiff and argue for a transfer of the burden of proof towards the claimant. They share Heather Brooke’s view expressed in the Times last Monday. I'm not quite sure why that link isn’t working any more – so here’s the text of her argument:

England, home of the mother of all injustices
The libel laws are an abomination. They favour rich, litigious bullies at the expense of free expression. Even a website for mothers to chatter on is fair game to this draconian law. Last week was forced to pay a five-figure sum for comments posted on its chat site. It stood by the comments but this law is such an ass that the burden of proof rests solely with the defendant. Meanwhile, claimants can make their allegations free from evidential proof. Their opinion is all that counts. They do not have to prove the comments are false. They don't even have to show any harm to their reputation. I can think of no other area in law in which an individual's spurious opinion outweighs the greater public good of truth and justice.

The Mumsnet case makes clear how libel affects everyone, not just journalists or those working in the traditional media. More and more of us, thanks to the growing ubiquity of blogs, chat groups and web forums, are vulnerable to this nefarious law. And while big media groups have deep pockets, the individual hasn't. If the damages don't get the writer, then legal costs certainly will. Most writers are not rich people and so they must settle. Result: vibrant debate is quashed, truth inevitably suffers. The law is so heavily weighted against freedom of expression that all writers (even those hosting blogs) are being urged to buy libel insurance; the freelance chapter of the National Union of Journalists is inundated with inquiries about its new policy.

No matter that the publishers of Mumsnet didn't even write the comments that the author Gina Ford claimed defamed her. Under the Defamation Act 1996 nonauthors can be held liable if they fail to expeditiously remove comments someone thinks are defamatory. But how quick is quick? The Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said that the comments were taken down after little more than 24 hours. Yet the vagueness of the law means she would have to go to court to prove this was a reasonable time period.

As a result we now have a culture where the default position is not free speech but censorship. After the 2001 case Godfrey v. Demon Internet Ltd, all internet service providers became vulnerable to libel lawsuits if they failed to immediately censor comments that a person claimed were defamatory. Whether or not the words are true is irrelevant.

England's libel laws have never been about protecting individuals - at least not poor or helpless individuals. They are about protecting the rich and the powerful. A fair law would be one in which the claimant has to prove falsity, harm and malicious intention, while providing a defence for truth, reasonable care and the public interest. Then both reputations and freedom of expression could be protected. Until then, mum's the word.

This blog from Oliver Kamm is fairly reflective of many blogger's views on this issue.

fakeIDpoint Tue 15-May-07 08:28:11

Hi Justine,

Thanks for your detailed reply.

You "take issue" with my suggestion that:
"The UK law follows the EU Constitution (so VERY unlikely to be changed)",
because you say the law commission is currently looking at protecting on-line freedom of speech.
Sorry, my point was that, from much of the media coverage, I got the impression that Mumsnet / you were biased towards the US situation where "Freedom of speech" does not have the same EU and UK controls.
- in the US, so long as that person isn't an elected official, you can say what you like about them, even if this is a lie. In the US there isn't the same burden of proof requirement to statements, individuals have much less legal protection from libel.
Is this what you'd like in the UK?
Such a solution would require the UK to abandon this element of the EU constitution.
You seem to be mixing UK and US law.
Should the UK also have the US "right to bear arms"?

The crux is how the law can perhaps change while allowing freedom of speech, but still protecting people and organisations from the publication of lies about them.
There is of course the possibility that the law won’t change or that it will even tighten up from the perspective of those hosting or running Web sites.
The law is rarely perfect, perhaps the current situation is already as good as it's going to get?

Do you have any idea of the law commission suggestions?
Do you have any suggestions for the law commission?
- Again, I'd be more impressed if you were presenting solutions and not problems.

Next you say that:
"having posters be liable for what they post rather than the sites on which they post is unworkable"
This may well be the US system, but that is because they have fundamentally different libel laws to the EU & UK. That is why US organisations and individuals have found themselves in court for libel, outside of the US for comments they made on Web sites that were hosted +/or viewed outside of the US. This is why I suggest such a change would only be possible if the fundamentals of UK libel law change, and as this follows the EU constitution, I don’t think this is at all likely.

You do make a suggestion, that perhaps there might be a "kind of period in which to state your adherence to a post and take over legal liability."
- but wouldn't that just allow lies to be posted, spread about, the crowd "whipped up into a frenzy" and then the post taken down, because “oh sorry” it was a lie.
What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Unless of course you disagree with the “innocent until proven guilty” concept?
Your suggestion would allow an attack on an individual or organisation, while the integrity of the accusations are investigated. If the accusations are proven to be false, it could be too late! The reputation etc. of the target may already be irreparably damaged. The current EU constitution and UK law solve this by requiring you to first be sure of your facts.

That is why all the legal advice I've always had regarding Web sites and in particular Web site forums is that any potential libellous (or otherwise illegal) posts should be taken down ASAP, and only put back if it's proven they have the required backing of evidence, truth etc.

It is still freedom of speech, just that you have to engage your brain and integrity before your mouth (or in this case keyboard). We all know it can be hard to take back words. It's better to think first. But heck, that's just my opinion.
Isn't this exactly what the current legal situation requires?

You repeated your view that a chat room is like a pub chat. But we all know the damage caused by comments taken out of context. In your example, if the Government minister were drunk and drink driving, it would be irrelevant that 100 people said he was a light drinker. The key fact would be critical and once made could stick in the minds of the readers much more than the 100 posts.

Also a pub chat is essentially a private conversation, with a very limited audience. A post on web site goes out to the WWW, the WORLD WIDE web audience. That is why chat forum posts need (IMHO) very careful and strict attention.

You conclude by saying that "balancing of reputation versus freedom of speech is a difficult act". I couldn't agree more.

So I repeat my point.
What do you propose?
Please, solutions and not problems.


PS I don't think I'm the only person with this view, your link to the Times article by Heather Brooke has similar feedback to my own.
- "You have clearly got the nuances of the Defamation Act muddled"
- "... you have to suggest an alternative law ..."
- and all the way from the US "There is no problem with libel - simply ensure you have evidence before you make a claim in print. If you don't have the evidence, you deserve any problems that follow. Of course, the "freedom" to publish lies with impunity would be of great benefit to journalists.""

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 14-May-07 19:49:08

Hi FakeIDpoint,
Good to see you on MN and thanks for your post.

First we take issue with your point:
"The UK law follows the EU Constitution (so VERY unlikely to be changed)"
The law commission, the body which advises the government on legislation warned that a rethink of defamation law was needed to protect freedom of speech online back in 2002. They are consulting on that very issue right now with a view to updating the law. So we are pretty hopeful that it can be changed.

Secondly you say that having posters be liable for what they post rather than the sites on which they post is unworkable, but it is exactly how it works in the US. Should we have a similar situation here? Maybe.

Or maybe a better alternative would be some kind of period in which to state your adherence to a post and take over legal liability.

For example, someone posts that a government minister is an addict. MN receives a complaint from said Minister's expensive legal team and, of course, because we have no idea whether it's true and more than likely would not wish to go to court to prove it anyway, we pull the post. But what if it is true? We've removed the poster's freedom to say so and then to defend herself. So how about some sort of system in which a website is able to contact the poster, and if they receive an undertaking that they wish to defend their post, then at that point the liablity is transferred to the poster? (ie that's the point and not before at which you do the information gathering on a poster)

If this were the case, Gina would have had a chance to defend her reputation against the person who actually challenged it. Doesn't that make sense?

We also think the conversational nature of bulletin board communication should be taken into account in assessing whether a complainant has been defamed. For instance, if a single poster makes a defamatory comment e.g Govn minister is a drunk but a 100 people swiftly post that they've know him for 20 years they've never seen him have more than a glass or two of an evening, should it be considered defamatory? Or should there be a requirement to consider bulletin board conversations in the whole? We would suggest that there should. In the Gina, lawyers more than once demanded we remove whole threads when by far the bulk of the posts refuted the odd negative comment.

As you know we've written to the Department for Constitutional affairs who are consulting on this issue right now. They have verbally told us that they plan to consult widely on this issue and we very much hope the issue will be roundly debated because the balancing of reputation versus freedom of speech is a difficult act.

We very much hope to be part of the process of coming up with a solution that is measured and workable - and not just "crying" about it as you put it.

Thanks for your thoughts.
M Towers

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 14-May-07 17:43:05

Today's Times had a good piece about this issue fyi.

Whizzz Fri 11-May-07 15:31:44

sorry, I just read ellsybells post of "pretty sure you could find someone out there willing to do it pro bono " & thought you had suggested getting Bono to do it !

It's been a long week

bossykate Fri 11-May-07 15:23:24

fakeID - great points, which do seem to have passed many by here.

fakeIDpoint Fri 11-May-07 15:19:03

Hi ellsybells,

Yes, great plan.
But what would be suggested.
I've seen all the posts, the interviews etc. complaining about the current situation.
How about moving on to actually proposing what the solution would be.


ellsybells Fri 11-May-07 14:58:34

Hi - I'm new to MN (and motherhood) so may not get this post right....however just wanted to add my two-pennyeth on lobbying ideas since I used to be in that line of work b4 DS arrived. You could try starting with an 'early day motion' with a friendly MP (maybe you already have one?) - this is a good way to raise the issue more widely in parliament as it then gets signed by more & more MPs each week (so you will have a better idea of how popular your issue is). This could ultimately lead to a Private Members Bill where you could change the law on libel without waiting ages for it to come up through the normal channels. I think the timeframe for these Bills is christmastime - but you would need legal assistance to draft it. I'm pretty sure you could find someone out there willing to do it pro bono (for free!). Hope this helps, let me know if I can do anything to help.

fakeIDpoint Fri 11-May-07 14:56:46

This all seems a mess.
As I see it, misinformation not education.
Crying but not presenting a solution.

The UK law follows the EU Constitution (so VERY unlikely to be changed) in that in the UK we have freedom of speech. (Justine, you put "We would stress that we accept that individuals have a right to protect their reputations." in your statement).
The EU Constitution states that with freedom of speech comes duties and responsibilities. These include "the protection of the reputation or the rights of others".

That means somebody is potentially liable if the Mumsnet site has posts that are libelous.

If the law is changed, it would I imagine only move the liability (and repsonsability) from Mumsnet to the posters.

However, as the Mumsnet system requires no traceable proof of who you are. Could Mumsnet or their ISP still be sued for allowing their members to post illegal material in an anonymous way?

To prove the point I have only just created this profile called "fakeID" which uses a fake email address etc.

Justine, what do you actually suggest?
- that all Web sites or ISPs have to implement a way of people that use sites first prooving who they are before they can put their views on the Internet? That to me would be VERY anti freedom of speech.
- OR that people should be allowed to say what they want about others, even if it's not true, offensive, libelous etc. As that would be agains UK law and the European constitution.

Justine, I take you back to your point. If the ISP and Web site owners (you in the case of Mumsnet) aren't liable and users are anonymous, how would Gina or any other individual defend their "right to protect their reputations"


second MissGolightly's motion of a petition.

WideWebWitch Thu 10-May-07 20:51:08

lol at Justine's explanation of politics

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 10-May-07 18:18:51

Have blogged on libel law and freedom of speech issue here fyi.

Cappuccino Thu 10-May-07 11:13:23
morningpaper Thu 10-May-07 09:58:10

which thread is this? I missed it <grump>

Cappuccino Thu 10-May-07 09:48:57

ok it may have been Tuesday (confused by Bank Holiday)

but still

Cappuccino Thu 10-May-07 09:45:53

morningpaper where were you on Monday?

I was dying for you to turn up on my surrendered wives thread like a red frothing cloud of feminist anger and rain thunder and lightning down on us

but you weren't there. No fun

MissGolightly Thu 10-May-07 09:43:17

How about starting a petition on the number ten website?

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 10-May-07 09:34:34

Good thinking Batman - Thanks we will.

morningpaper Thu 10-May-07 09:13:31

We should contact all these posters here

myfreeforum on Tue 08-Aug-06 16:57:18
The situation is also being monitored at and we are willing to make an appeal for legal expenses and contribute ourselves.

This needs fighting.

tahir on Tue 08-Aug-06 16:31:50
Hope we see some kind of sane resolution to this, I'm an admin at , this will have a huge impact on all UK based forums. we're looking very closely at the issue of liability in relation to our site and would welcome dialogue with any other UK site that has concerns.


myfreeforum on Tue 08-Aug-06 18:01:43
We have 1000s of active forums on myfreeforum to which we could make an immediate appeal for support. So far we have only disseminated the information in our own support forums, as we don't want to jump the gun.
The admins here need to decide what to do, but even if they just want initial legal advice funding to help them figure out what to do, we are prepared to contribute on the basis of the advice being shared.
This issue is vitally important to forums and freedom of speech in general.

Damsella on Tue 08-Aug-06 21:09:09
I just want to add the support, financial if necessary, of

A lot of us are mums are we are horrified by this ridiculous legal situation.

If funds are required for a legal fight then I will set up an account for our members to contribute.

Power to the forums!!!!!

Jaysecond on Tue 08-Aug-06 21:27:20
I think before we set up a new thread, MNHQ need to know whats been going on and how much support there is for them, then they can decide which way forward is best appropriate for this situation. I do agree however that it needs more of our MN users to be involved, something which i am sure they would want!

My DH emailed MNHQ earlier offering the support of some non-parenting forums (reputable nonetheless!!) they replied thanking him and said they would bear it in mind. Seems like EVERYONE wants to do their bit.

Certainly if every MN'er donated £10, we would be well on the way to making a united stand. The power of people is not something to be messed with!!!

EmilyTurner on Wed 09-Aug-06 09:16:02

New here as I've been following the recent furore.

Just a quick note, as I know a few of you looked at what I wrote on my site yesterday, to say that I've updated. I got a top IT lawyer to comment on the case. Her points were interesting, if very sad for the internet community.

I wish you all well and I will follow with interest. Although in the UK, I post on a lot of US forums and I've been posting the updates over there too.


morningpaper Thu 10-May-07 09:08:05

Look it's all very well for you

I just studied religion and now I just do laundry and dribble over the postman

I don't know how these things work

And more of your cheek and I will stop doing your cleaning

Have we contacted any of those other service providers who said they would be happy to help in whatever way they could?

We could set up a errmmm Pressure Group

<returns to knitting>

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 10-May-07 08:54:01

Well there's this thing called Parliament and in it there's this other thing called government and they sometimes make some things called laws...Think that's how it works anyway - I did politics at Uni.

morningpaper Thu 10-May-07 08:51:33

How would this sort of thing be changed, without a legal case setting a precedent?

littlelapin Thu 10-May-07 08:43:36

Gosh we are supermums! (or is that just Justine )

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 10-May-07 08:35:37

bump for those not up at midnight last night!

VeniVidiVickiQV Wed 09-May-07 23:40:05

well, I have no ideas, but give my full support to any action you take with this.

Wotzsaname Wed 09-May-07 23:37:19

abit late now, i'll have a read over morning coffee, thanks for asking for your views.
FWIW - I think the "Disclaimer" should be more prominent, up with Contact us.

FiveFingeredFiend Wed 09-May-07 23:22:54

Nothing to add, but Right on sista!

SoapOnARope Wed 09-May-07 23:21:58

Thanks Justine going for a good read. i could do with a change of reading matter

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 09-May-07 23:19:11

As you probably know we've been banging on for a while about updating the outmoded libel law so that sites like Mumsnet are afforded a bit more protection from potentially terminal legal action. Now we've settled our dispute with Gina Ford, we thought it a good idea to fully explain our position here . We've also written to the Department for Constitutional affairs today who are currently consulting on defamation. Do let us know if you have any thoughts/suggestions of anything else we should be doing.
M Towers

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