Good and bad companies

  spikeychris 14:48 10 Jul 2003

Would appreciate the consumerwatch advice on this one.

Been asked to network a system that will soon be running concerning good and bad companies, it will be on-line and the idea is for people to have a rave about bad service they have received. There is the option of good reports but what bothers me is the negative comments that are bound to be posted on-line.

What should the site be aware of? is it fine to bad mouth a company? does the site have to contact the company for its reply? is there any legal issues?



  -pops- 15:44 10 Jul 2003

Very dangerous thing you're proposing here.

Libel laws exist on the web just as much as they do elsewhere and with this increasingly litigious society I feel you are taking a huge risk.

As the law stands, it is the publisher of any comments (good or bad) who is legally responsible for what those comments say, not the originator of the article. So I can see a situation where someone with a personal grudge against you, the publisher, might send some very libellous text resulting in you ending up in court carrying the can.

I would keep well away if I were in your situation.

But, as in all things legal, get WRITTEN professional advice before embarking on this.


  spikeychris 16:05 10 Jul 2003

Ta Brian, knew about the publisher issue. What I don't know is, does the company have to informed to offer an explanation. I say this because every time we (BBC local radio) do a piece on anybody they have to be offered the opportunity to reply.


  -pops- 16:14 10 Jul 2003

I would think in the interests of fairness, even if not legality, the accused must be given the opportunity to defend themselves. It is up to them whether they want to take this up.

I still think this is very dangerous and could be extremely expensive.


  Djohn 16:20 10 Jul 2003

I don't know the law regarding Libel/Slander, but have always been under the impression that if the person making the statement can prove it to be true, and the issue is an actual fact with evidence to back-up the "allegations" then it is up to the other party to prove otherwise.

I do believe the same as yourself, the party being accused must be given the opportunity to put their side, if they choose not to, or are unable to do so, how can they then take action? As said above though, I do not understand the legal issue, but knowing you, I would think you will obtain professional advice regarding this.

Anyhow, good luck with your venture, cross those i's and dot those t's :o)

  perpetually-perplexed 16:53 10 Jul 2003

ive just rang my sister whos a corporate lawyer in america.
she hopes you have a vast bank account just in case you get sued

the likelihood of you being sued is tiny but without disclaimers and very good lawyer on the payroll you could end up living in a cardboard box. and giving the right to reply to all companies would take up a massive amount of time unless you could configure your servers to automatically send a written statement from yourselves plus a copy of what your contributers posted

  spikeychris 18:06 10 Jul 2003

As I expected, an excellent response thanks to all. perpetually-perplexed thanks for ringing your sister, free advice from an American lawyer, can't be bad.

Would a disclaimer from the website owner be enough?

PS I'll only be fitting up the system, I'm not going to get involved with the day to day.


  perpetually-perplexed 18:24 10 Jul 2003

she said that most companies just put up a disclaimer, some judges see it as free press cos its difficult to sue if you libel a company as a whole , if i said bill gates was a f$$$$$$$ c%%%
its not illegal cos he cant prove he isnt .
there are so many sites aimed at say microsoft, and some are really viscious

but if i sed something like bill gates eats slugs everyday(he doesnt i think) he could prove he doesnt

ask the fe here he must kill a lot a libel stuff on here

  carver 20:44 10 Jul 2003

Do as -pops- suggests and get correct legal advice before you do anything, as the law stands regarding libel you or the company running the web site can be held responsible for anything put on it that can not be proven to be true. As for living in a cardboard box, you might not be able to afford one.

  bfoc 21:58 10 Jul 2003

Might it make a difference if the forum is 'moderated'? Then any potentially libellous comments could be removed 'quickly'.
In this country we do not have 'guaranteed' freedom of the press as in US and so some of those comments will not be relevant.
The 'right of reply' is not 'required' but might massively lessen the chances of legal action.
There is an accepted notion of 'fair comment' and also 'public interest' which should be borne in mind.
Finally the reality is that taking legal action would most likely draw more attention to the claims then a web-site would. Much as we might like to think that the on-line world is massive, the Press, TV and Radio still reach many more people!

  Forum Editor 23:06 10 Jul 2003

doesn't have to prove anything. If you libel me it's you who has to prove that what you said is true - I do not have to prove it isn't.

If a person publishes a derogatory comment about a company it's fine, as long as it satisfies certain conditions:

1. It should be based on personal experience, not hearsay.

2. The comment should be specific. Saying that "Sooperdooper computers Ltd are a bunch of thieving cowboys" is a libel because it is almost certainly untrue - not all the employees are thieving cowboys, if any.

3. Comments should not be generalised - it's possible to libel a group of people by saying something like "Forum Editors tell lies". Unless you can prove that all forum editors are liars you have published a libel.

4. Watch out for vendettas. Many people use web forums as a means of pursuing a grudge against a company which they feel has mistreated them. These people will try to convert others to their point of view by saying "don't buy from this company" or words to that effect. They commonly exaggerate the circumstances of their complaint, and libel is almost always hovering in there somewhere.

You don't have to offer a company a right of reply, after all you're just inviting consumer comment, but it will add balance to your site if you at least leave the door open. Many companies aren't interested in debating issues online, and of course this doesn't necessarily mean they're in the wrong.

If you don't moderate a site like this you'll soon have a problem on your hands - many people use the supposed anonymity of the internet as a way of behaving disgracefully, and no matter how confident you are that it won't happen it will... take it from someone who knows.

Be extra vigilant on Friday nights - it's when the fools come out to play.

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