I find the recent article by Toni Payne directly addressing perceived sanctioning of cyber bullying by celebrity blogger Linda Ikeji to be rather interesting. I share an excerpt below. But before then, her write up raises the issue of legal liability specific to comments made by a blogger’s readers.
The Law in Nigeria
Nigeria has proposed a seven (7) year prison term for social media critics but this draconian law does not extend to vitrolic or hateful comments published in the comment section of a blog that attacks another individual or celebrity. Sorry, the government is only interested in protecting itself, by any draconian means necessary.
So, without more, suffice it to say, there is nothing that addresses the issue of legal liability for a blog owner in Nigeria whose commenters are off the hinges with hateful comments.
The Law in the USA
What about the USA? Yes, the U.S has addressed this issue.
Under Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code, it provides in relevant part , “(n)o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Further, the law makes it clear that individual states cannot make their own rules to trump federal law by trying to get legal liability through the back door “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”
The above section all part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, have applied to bloggers; and what the courts have determined is that, if you are a publisher in the USA (newspapers, bloggers, online magazine owners etc.), you are not liable for the hateful or defamatory comments made by your users on your blog, even if you have a moderation technique that allows or disallows some comments. The law is pretty solid in favor of the publisher. In fact, you can reference the most recent ruling out of one of California’s Appellate court this past November that sees the court siding yet again with the online publisher in the matter of Paul Huff v. Freedom of Communications Inc.
As a blogger, you are also protected if you edit the comments by your users, in an editorial capacity in conformity with industry standard.
If you edit their comments to publish something false that they never wrote or said, then you could be held liable for defamation. There are some limitations on the above general rule but we need not get into the details per se as they are inapplicable here, but instead focus narrowly on the issue raised in Payne’s article.
Section 230 essentially protects you the blogger from claims of defamation, negligence , intentional torts such as emotional distress, breach of contract, and a whole host of other claims. It does not protect you from intellectual property infringement of other people’s work, invasion of the privacy of others under electronic communication privacy laws and federal criminal violations.
So, the above is a summary of the law from the US end of things. Do you see and get why the courts rule the way they have in the USA?
In any event, Toni Payne believes Linda Ikeji’s act of approving hateful comments may constitute or is cyber bullying. I am not so sure, given the state of the law in the USA, since she does reference the USA in her article, that a blogger (whether Linda, or bloggers in the USA), can be said to be a cyber bully because he/she permits the publishing of hateful comments that are very hurtful and demeaning to others.
My Thoughts on Hateful User Comments and What Blog Owners and Celebrities Should Do
There are two schools of thoughts on comments on blogs: 1) all comments should be allowed and let other commenters take on those who attack the person/thing/place discussed in a blog post; and 2) comments should be moderated and hateful, bullying comments deleted.
I think it depends on the blog’s goal, blog owner and objectives. I am a FIRM believer in the empowerment of my people, starting with our women. Therefore, on all of my platforms, it is rare that I would allow hateful comments. I realize it would make a huge difference in traffic and more notoriety for me. But, that is not the terms I signed up for. It would be a complete waste of my time and does not fit my ethos and my personal or professional brand.
My commenters do not have a first amendment right to come on my blog and say whatever they want. If it can be said that they do, I can choose not to antagonize fellow readers with hateful statements. Traffic while great, is not my priority. I want a quality audience i.e. I will settle for the luxury brand (if this were fashion) and specifically influence the influencers who can reach their following on a larger scale i.e. (create diffused lines for the mass market).
On the flip side, and without any condemnation or judging, a blog like Linda Ikeji’s that is gossip oriented and more like Perez Hilton and TheYBF, among other top US gossip blogs, may choose to permit such comments. They do run a business and it is perfectly okay for them to choose to permit such comments, as hateful as the comments may be. It is the nature of gossip blogs.
They may be subject to liability if they edit those comments to include false statements about others that their users did not share. However, barring such false/defamatory edits, as explained in the law section of this article, they are free to permit hateful and non-hateful comments alike, even if I don’t care for it and those who are affected do not.
I do not think it makes them cyber bullies and it is indeed why owners of more prominent corporate sites like Yahoo, CNN, TMZ and many more sites out there are able to thrive and be successful. They are not bullies, they do the reporting, the users can comment as they choose to and publishing the users’ comments does not make those who publish it bullies, per se.
I do think that independent of legal liability, Toni, however, does raise a great point that as humans, it is important to be cautious how we treat one another and that bloggers can essentially have commenting policies that explain what will or will not be accepted; and perhaps curtail the hate, a bit.
However, at the end of the day, if the celebrities do not like it, they should avoid reading the comments section or having their friends read and tell them.
Finally, note that there is a distinction with a blogger sharing a post and its users commenting versus a social media user going on twitter and directly targeting i.e. “@” the person to send defamatory statements or criminal threats to others, something we have seen on the Nigerian and non-Nigerian end.
That involves legal liability and we have seen the likes of Courtney Love, among others, get sued when they have spewed defamatory statements on twitter. We have also seen in recent times, celebrities lose endorsement deals over such actions on twitter.
What’s your take on this issue? Read an excerpt from Toni’s article below:
Cyber bullying: This Toke Makinwa and Linda Ikeji Issue.
Let me start by saying, we sometimes avoid those touchy subjects because we wish to avoid “drama” but Cyber Bullying is one concept it seems we are yet to get a full grasp on its consequences. Currently, in America there is a full campaign launched against bullying in general, where different celebs have been actively campaigning to stop bullying. We have seen cases of young ones committing suicide because they couldn’t handle the bullying. I pray and hope things don’t get this far in my motherland, although I suspect it may have and we just don’t document it as much.
For the sake of time, I will try not to over talk but a lot has to be said to make my point very clear so kindly excuse the long read, (I tend to do that when im passionate about something). I know a lot keep quiet to avoid backlash but hey, it is what it is.
There is this ”trend” of making vicious comments about others that has become popularized by certain blogs. Overtime, its now seeming like the norm, with more people appearing to see nothing wrong with it. We even have corporate brands willing to identify with such sites irrespective of the damage or harm they cause.
I have seen it happen to celebrities and non celebrities alike, some notable names being Tonto Dikeh, Dbanj, and most especially Karen Igho, just to name a few. Its like the general mentality has become, if you ever become the topic on certain blogs, get ready to either grow thick skin or have a mini heart attack. We are not all built the same so lets hope those who will still be victim, do the former.
This trend of Vicious, Nasty, Bitter comments can make your skin crawl. Yeah, nobody holy pass and I am certainly not an angel, we tease each other all the time, some of us even enjoy a bit of fashion police when we see things outright wrong but we should also know where to draw the line. I am sure we can all make our point without being outright wicked. I have seen some comments about an outfit I wore to a concert on Bella Naija that made me laugh, like, these people got jokes for days. They were not what I would have liked to hear but they were also not wicked or cruel. but I digress!
They say as a celeb you are meant to have thick skin, but in the same token, as a human being we must all set good examples for those who look up to us. Imagine having a generation of people who see nothing wrong with hurting each other all in the name of fun.
Anyways lets fast forward to why we are here. There is a blog very notable for nasty comments, in fact more people visit the blog because of its comments than its content. The blog is owned and run by a lady named Linda. Please keep in mind, I have nothing against her, she is a hard working lady who has made a name for herself, but I also wont for the sake of status not call a spade a spade. I am not singling her out just for the sake of it, but she just happens to be the 2nd party involved in the issue I want to discuss.
I will make my case based on my observations about her blog or her (it gets confusing seeing as she approves the comments that make public view so if she wasn’t ok with it, we probably wouldn’t see it). You are probably asking yourself, as long as its not me being targeted, why should I be concerned? guess what, it is all of our business because God forbid what is being seen as “ok” now, may affect you someday.
Aside from being a simple to read source for news, overtime, the blog has grown into some sort of “haven” for anonymous commenters who wish to pour out the darkness inside them all in the name of commenting about others. They have even taken it several notches up and attack each other. Today, I saw tweets to the effect that Toke Makinwa was being attacked on a certain blog. One of the retweets took me to the source and my heart was like, something has to be said. If it changes something, fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too.
What I noted was that the past few days has seen blogger Linda hammer on and on about Toke’s Relationship breaking up, or posting a reference to being engaged for too long, or posting pictures of the babe calling it ”stunning” in her usual sarcastic style, and allowing her readers do the rest. When I mean “the rest” I am talking about the outright nasty, vicious, malicious comments posted about this lady from people who do not even know her. Lets not forget some past commenters who would even claim to know the subject personally and proceed to post “personal” information about the person.. if they are lies, we do not know, but we still get to watch the defamation go on and all these are approved by the blog owner.
Toke may not say anything because she wishes to appear strong and non chalant, but damn, she isn’t made of steel and has blood in her veins and emotions like we all do. Last time I checked, most people that have been a victim of cyber bullying such as this are human too. Also, there is no age restriction on these blogs so your kids are reading and learning. To those who make these comments its “fun”, but when does fun turn into torment and emotional abuse?
Toke and I are not close friends so I have nothing to gain from defending her except calling a spade a spade. Everything beyond and above this point is my opinion and analysis of the situation. If I am wrong, my apologies in advance but I seriously doubt ill be far from the truth.
In my opinion I feel she(Linda) put Toke under the “hate” radar simply because she(Toke) made a statement on her radio show that “Linda was not a role model”. Linda took it very personal because she took to her blog to post one long epistle about bla bla bla. After that, its been Toke this, Toke that, knowing full well the type of readers she has and the type of comments it will generate (its like the same ol thing, different person).. ahh ahhh. If Toke doesn’t see Linda as a role mode, She(Toke) is entitled to her opinion and as long as she was not abusive when she said it, I see no harm in that. So why take it so personal to the point of being vindictive?
Toni Payne Online has the Full Story.
Let me know what you think.
Photocredit: Berrykisses Blogspot
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