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Beware of Online Commentators

News articles, blogs, and even some online advertisements often have comment boxes linked to them for readers to leave their opinions on the piece. But, recent closures of online comment sections on prominent websites may indicate that they have had their day.

Online Comments

Many businesses use online comment boxes to facilitate feedback and discussion from readers and customers. They can be really beneficial, but more and more they are being used for abuse and derogatory remarks.

Most sites moderate the comments left on them, but this can become a full time job. How do you decide what to allow and what to discard? How do you allow freedom of speech whilst weeding out the rubbish? And how do you give this the attention it requires without detracting from your actual day to day business?

If you have a comment section, it’s best to set out a moderation policy before you start deleting, or not approving comments. The BBC, for example, has a list of more than a dozen reasons to not approve a comment; these reasons range from sexism and racism, to using capital letters, i.e. shouting. The idea being that the comments allowed are legal, constructive and not offensive to other readers.

You must make sure that you are happy with whatever is posted on your site, and make sure those who do post and/or read them are aware of who owns the content and who is responsible for it. You may wish to have a caveat set out before the comments section for the attention of your readers that says that all the opinions posted are not yours – for example, “the views expressed in the comments are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of [your business].” But be aware if you reply to a comment, the reply will be your content and could be used against you if deemed defamatory in any way.

You are free to decide whether you do or do not allow comments on your website. With carefully drafted terms of use for your website you can be clear about what you will and will not allow, when you allow it and when you reserve the right to change your mind about a piece of content.

No matter what you decide to do, have an expert in internet law assist to make sure that your terms are clear should anyone have any complaints or concerns regarding your comment sections.

Slater and Gordon have an expert team of business lawyers who specialise in internet law. For legal advice or immediate representation call us on freephone 0800 916 9052 or contact us online and we will call you.

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