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Mumsnet campaign for a change to the libel law

(84 Posts)
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

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.


Kathyis6incheshigh Thu 24-May-07 09:25:20

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.

LongDistanceClara Thu 24-May-07 09:21:10

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

(Mwah, Wabbit)

Kathyis6incheshigh Thu 24-May-07 09:19:31

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


LongDistanceClara Thu 24-May-07 09:18:05

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).

LongDistanceClara Thu 24-May-07 09:15:23

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.

Kathyis6incheshigh Wed 23-May-07 18:07:05

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.

LongDistanceClara Wed 23-May-07 18:01:18

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

Sorry if my bullying comment isn't fair / accurate.

- "I agree with TT and I have seen examples of 'virtual bullying' on MN."

- "... for what I also see as bullying"

- "I am a long time Mumsnet poster but have given up of late as I really dislike the bullying"

- "Check out the weaning rocket science thread for mumsnet bullying at its best girls"

- "I've joined MumsNet specifically to post on this thread, and I'm asking the moderators to delete it, you're all bullying cows"


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.

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