Web sites can be held legally liable for anonymous user comments posted on them, the European Court of Human Rights declared yesterday, in a ruling sure to terrify news sites everywhere. The case revolves around the Estonian news site Delfi, which in 2006 posted an unflattering article about a ferry company, paidContent explains. The article prompted some angry comments, and the ferry company sued, saying some were defamatory. Courts agreed that they were.
Delfi's policies clearly stated that comment writers assumed responsibility for their remarks, which means the ferry company could have sued the offending individuals directly—if their anonymity hadn't made that impossible. "Making Delfi responsible … was therefore practical, but it was also reasonable, because the news portal received commercial benefit from the comments being made," the court said. Anti-censorship activists were appalled. "It is difficult to see how any site would allow anonymous comments if this ruling stands as precedent," one group said.