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Could individuals be sued? What is defamatory comment and what is just robust discussion?

(15 Posts)
BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 10:07:01

Thinking about recent threats to sue this site, does anyone know what is, in fact, the legal situation if we are free and strong-minded in our discussions and criticise named people (recent harsh criticism of a couple of authors spring to mind). From the Mumsnet sign-up agreement it seems that outspoken individuals on the talkboards could be sued. Is that right? If so, then we need to cautious before launching into the kind of free discussion that would happen in a pub.
I am for freedom of speech, but it seems there is a legal difference between a chat in the pub or playground and posting to a webforum.
This is from the Mumsnet registration agreement on this site:
"The posting of defamatory or otherwise illegal comment or material, contravenes our Talk Board policy is not allowed. ... Members should also be aware that such activities may subject them to civil actions or criminal penalties."

BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 10:48:41

And what about all the posters from outside the UK - can they be sued?

FluffyMummy123 Mon 26-Feb-07 10:49:09

Message withdrawn

BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 10:49:18

Interesting no?

BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 10:50:20

No, but what if one of these nice authors decides to go after an individual?

FluffyMummy123 Mon 26-Feb-07 10:50:40

Message withdrawn

BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 10:57:51

Oh, where? Any link?

FluffyMummy123 Mon 26-Feb-07 10:58:19

Message withdrawn

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 26-Feb-07 11:00:14

It's a moot point tbh BarefootDancer. In the US it's certainly the individual, not the website who is at risk - here the law is more cloudy but technically we believe that individuals could be sued for defamation by aggrieved third parties as well as ourselves of course, so it is worth bearing that in mind. There is the small matter of how someone would be able to tell your identity - quite hard to bring an action against BarefootDancer of Mumsnet - moreover most folk would not rush into a libel action against a member of the public but then again, as we've found, there's no accounting for some.
Either way, our policy is to remove posts that are defamatory as soon as they are brought to our attention.

BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 11:10:43

Yes - that is fair enough, but what is 'defamatory' - does it just rely on the person being criticised asking for the messages to be removed, or is there a guideline on the type of comment that is likely to get us into trouble?
One of the great things about these talkboards is that people aren't afraid to put their views.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 26-Feb-07 11:25:53

Hi bfd,
There's a good summary of defamation here

A defamatory statement is one that damages a person's reputation in the eyes of right-thinking people. Of course there is always the defence of truth, so you can be defamatory but not get into trouble if what you say is true.

Bugsy2 Mon 26-Feb-07 11:29:21

There is a difference between robust discussion and actually making offensive comments about someone.
So for example you could say:
"I disagree with Bugsy. I don't think the ideas she has about controlled crying are right. I think that it is unkind to let babies cry for any period of time at all."
That would be robust discussion.

However, if you said:
"I hate Bugsy. Her ideas are crap, she is spawn of the devil and by recommending controlled crying she is damaging babies psychologically."
That would be defamatory.

DominiConnor Mon 26-Feb-07 11:30:41

The "reasonable person" test has some strange results.
Jason donovan was "outed" as gay be some loony gay rights outfit. A magazine covered this in a Quite rightly, the courts do not now think that saying you are gay lowers people's esteem of you.
But Donovan won, because the "outing" implied that he was lying about his sexuality, and of course dishonesty is a clear bad.
I am not a lawyer, seek professional advice before invoking the wrath of Jason Donovan.

BarefootDancer Mon 26-Feb-07 11:34:41

Thanks - this link also states that a defamatory statement is on that 'Discredits them in their trade, business or profession'.
What a problem. Puts paid to a lot of threads in theory. I guess we should excercise caution and stick to making only nice bland comments and swopping motherly tips (flapjack recipe anyone?).
You are brave and admirable to continue to run the boards in the face of wild litigiousness.

LieselVentouse Mon 26-Feb-07 11:57:16

Yeah, Ive heard MP's going down

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