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BBC considers legal action against users of its message board

What did I say about legal action?

The inflammatory potential of new media was in the spotlight again this afternoon as the BBC suspended its South Asian cricket discussion board after "absolutely sickening and reprehensible" comments were made by users.

According to Media Guardian, after comments were posted a moderator threatened some users with legal action :

[she] warned the offending posters that their "foul abuse" would be investigated by the BBC. "Investigations are looking into the legality of what you have written and will pursue it to the highest end," she added.

Apparently comments to the board were moderated after they had been posted, which means the offensive comments were published on the BBC website without being checked. Media Guardian says:

The controversy over the comments highlights the potential pitfalls of this approach. The BBC used to vet all material posted before it was published online but recently changed to partial post-moderating to cope with the volume of material on its many talkboards.

As the law stands in the UK, I understand that the publisher / owner of the website is liable for any illegal material on it (i.e. racist or inciting violence), hence the BBC's strong language, hence the serious tone of the BBC's response.

It is an issue that bloggers and owners of corporate websites with forums need to be aware of too. I'm not sure if the law has been tested yet, but there may be a need for the law to be amended in this area. Perhaps there should be some clear guidelines about what reasonable measures a site owner must take in order to prevent illegal content - otherwise we risk limiting the development of public discussion and free speech online.

A matter for Ofcom, perhaps?


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