While visiting Lorelle’s blog, I read her post titled, Get Angry – Blogger Sued For Comments On Their Blog which links to an article on how John P. is being sued for a comment left on his blog.Bloggers' Rights at EFF

In the same post Lorelle provided links to articles about instances were others were sued, as well as The Legal Issues With Comments, by Jonathan Bailey.

Following the links Jonathan provided in his post, I landed on a series of articles written by Don Burleson which summarized internet laws even further.

My last stop was the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s site which covers “Bloggers’ Rights”.

Needless to say, what I read was not only fascinating but made me realize even though we all love to see comments on our blogs, what we share, who we link to, the comments we make as well as the comments left on our blogs can unknowingly become a liability.

Today’s Lesson

The articles I read weren’t just about comments.

My reading journey taught other lessons as well:

  1. I learned about the Online Defamation (libel) Law.
  2. I read up on Section 230 which provides some protections to bloggers (in the U.S).
  3. I should not assume the information shared in comments, blog posts or other articles found online is accurate.
  4. Blog insurance is an option, but can be expensive.
  5. Using a pseudonym or posting comments anonymously may not protect a person from being sued.
  6. Laws can vary from State to State, AND Country to Country.
  7. Even though I live in the United States, I could be sued in a different country.
  8. Setting my blog up as a LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) may give me a layer of protection.
  9. If I link to a defamatory article, I could held just as responsible as the person who wrote it.
  10. I learned we need to stand along side our fellow bloggers who are fighting for the rights of all bloggers.
  11. Most importantly I learned I should not fear being sued, but should blog responsibly.

Reading articles about blog authors who are getting sued for comments left on their blogs makes me think, “What’s to stop someone from suing us for something we share on Twitter, Facebook or another social networking site, as well.?”

What’s happening now is just the tip of the iceberg.

As much as this will be an interesting topic to watch, being informed can help us all.

Today’s Assignment

Knowing you could get sued for comments which are left on your blog, would you consider closing comments?

Do you see instances online where the potential for a law suit exists?

Have you looked into the legal ramifications of sharing online?

Or do you see what you do online as a non issue?

Care to share?

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Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and what I share in my posts is not to be construed as legal advice.

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  1. Barbara, I do think we need to give some thought to what appears in our comment boxes. I came across this issue last year when someone complained about a site I’d linked to. I was surprised but then discovered it was a site a commenter had linked to. This prompted me to set out a comment policy. You can read about the process here

    http://confidentwriting.com/2009/03/10-questions-to-think-about-in-relation-to-your-comment-policy/

    The other thing I found was about who owns the comments left – it seems to be the commenter unless you indicate otherwise. I have a note on my site now that says I may quote what you say.

    Oh… I see you have the same disclaimer ;-)

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Joanna,

      I agree. What we allow in our comments needs to be monitored.

      As for the the note that I can quote a commenter, I don’t know if you remember, but you gave me the permissions to “steal” the quote from you. :)

  2. I wouldn’t close comments, but I’d certainly remove comments if I felt they were inappropriate.

    My blog, my space, my rules.
    Check out Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach’s awesome post.Why Princeton NEVER Apologizes for its Fees…and Why You Should NOT EitherMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Like you, I wouldn’t close comments either. And you’re right. It is our blog, our space and those who comment need to play by our rules.

  3. MikeNo Gravatar says:

    I wouldn’t close comments and I’m not concerned about being sued as I don’t get into contentious issues — occasionally controversial, but never contentious — and any comment that rises to the level of being defamatory would violate the comment policy on my blog. Likewise, I don’t believe I’ve ever left a comment anywhere that I would consider to be defamatory. It’s just not in my nature to be that way in posting, commenting, and in “real life.”
    Check out Mike’s awesome post.Something I saw in an old magazine and recognized from real life – how cool is that!My Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Mike,

      I hear you. It’s one thing to be controversial, but another to be contentious. Like you, it’s not my nature to post something defamatory either.

  4. Barbara,

    Now this is bizarre! I cannot imagine anything like this! And echoing the others here, I would not close my comments. I say this probably because I make sure that my content does not harm or hurt anybody’s feelings. I am never contentious. And the same can be said of my comments too. Passionate arguments, YES but contentious ones, NO.

    Mike echoed almost everything I had to share.

    An eye-opener, this post.

    Joy always and hope you are enjoying Autumn’s hues.

    ~Susan
    Check out Susan Deborah’s awesome post.do you think you have your landscape in youMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Susan,

      Yes. This is a little on the bizarre side, but unfortunately it happens.

      I hear what you’re saying. Passionate arguments is one thing, but when they begin to border being contentious, that’s when we may need to step in exercise our authority as blog author.

      Joy back to you. The Autumn hues are just now starting to show up. Pretty!

  5. ~Sia McKye~No Gravatar says:

    I’ve come across a few people who love to stir up the proverbial crap. One in particular is truly a nasty bit of work and screams liable. I’ve had him comment on a few things on my blog, some of which I’ve deleted. To protect myself, I do give a warning that such and such comment is inappropriate and any further insults will be deleted and I do reserve the right and excercise it, to ban someone.

    I really appreciate the links here. I’m going to look at them all. I don’t worry about being sued, but I do feel being informed about my rights, the rights of my guests, and the information on liable is valueable to all.

    In this case, ignorance is not an escape from consquences.

    Great post!
    Check out ~Sia McKye~’s awesome post.A Glutton For PunishmentMy Profile

  6. Gail GardnerNo Gravatar says:

    The law has always been one method for oppressing freedom of speech. Closing comments would do nothing to protect us because we can be sued – or threatened with lawsuits – for anything we do.

    I believe our best protection is high visibility. The more well known a blogger is that becomes a target and the more bloggers who are willing to publicize issues they are facing the less likely it is that lawsuits will be used as a method to silence us.

    I encourage bloggers to join our collaboration of bloggers who are not afraid to come to the support of others. We also share what we have learned to save others time and money and discuss best practices to determine how best to improve what we do.
    Check out Gail Gardner’s awesome post.Join Bloggers Supporting Bloggers NOWMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Gail,

      That’s true. We can be sued for nearly anything these days, so closing comments may have no benefit whatsoever.

      I was just checking out your collaboration. Sounds fascinating. When I have my new site, Writers’ Blogk up and running, I’ll come by and have a closer look. In the meantime, I wish you great success with your endeavor.

  7. ElizaNo Gravatar says:

    What everyone else said about comments, but I wonder how this impacts forums. I have tried many times to get involved in forums and have always backed out due to how inflammatory the comments can get. Some go so far as for me to consider them hate propaganda.

    It boils down to the integrity and professionalism of the ‘owner’ or ‘moderator’. If I do not like what I see somewhere else, I back out and never return. I read ALL comments on my site and validate the content against my ethics and values. If it does not project the image I want for my site, it is deleted.

    We all have to ‘blog smart’. If it smells rotten, it likely is. Throw it out. Then being sued is a moot point.

    BTW, this also goes for checking the content of guest posts I receive. I have turned down posts because a) I cannot authenticate the authorship, or b) I have checked the information in the post and it is false, or it seems fishy and again I cannot validate it.
    Check out Eliza’s awesome post.Words From The Editor- Sex- Goddesses- Weddings- and Feng ShuiMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Eliza,

      I read your comment earlier and you have me thinking about the forum I’m adding to my new site, Writers’ Blogk. What you have seen happening in forums (which I have too), is what I don’t want happening in mine. Letting those in who only want to rant or project hate, defeats the purpose. Thank you for bringing that up.

      Good call on guest posts too. I’m with you. If we can’t authenticate the authorship or find the information which is being shared is false, it’s best to reject it and avoid possible problems.

  8. RichardNo Gravatar says:

    I wouldn’t close comments. Its a shame that bloggers would be held responsible for the comments of others, but I think that issue can be solve with careful moderation.

    However if your blog thrives on comments that walk the fence on controversy, I bet a well crafted disclaimer would give the owner of the blog some protection. Better yet, make comments visible to members only and put the disclaimer agreement as part of the membership sign up.
    Check out Richard’s awesome post.Romance Me with Your ContentMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Richard,

      Yes, it is a shame bloggers are being held responsible for what’s written in their comment sections, but I’m guessing because the blogger is the easiest person to attack, they take the brunt of it. Then it becomes up to the blogger to defend him/herself and say, “No. It’s XYZ who said that.

      I agree, having a well crafted disclaimer and/or comment policy may help.

      Membership sites are also a good idea. I’m guessing if someone has to go through the process of joining, they’re less apt to leave anonymous rants.

  9. I use common sense. Being a former attorney means that I definitely tend to be on the careful (not to say paranoid) side.
    Check out vered | blogger for hire’s awesome post.Loved New Orleans- Still Making Fried Green TomatoesMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Vered,

      Common sense comes in handy, doesn’t it? And I’ll bet your experience as a former attorney has been very beneficial, as well.

  10. AmyNo Gravatar says:

    Wonderfully informative. Thank you! I found information specifically for Canada that validates my principle to not put anything in writing that I would not be prepared to show anyone. The most important confirmation is that I am responsible for any comment I accept on my blog.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Amy,

      That’s true. We are responsible for what we put on our blogs, whether it’s in the form of a post, or the comments we allow.

  11. george angusNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I know it is blatantly stupid but I pretty much don’t give a rip. In two years I’ve only had one ugly set of circumstances and any yuk generated was from the other person – not me.

    I don’t have anything they could take away anyway, I guess. Kinda like not worrying too much about identity theft. “Hey if you want my identity and credit score, knock yourself out!”

    George
    Check out george angus’s awesome post.Speak 2BFree BlogTalkRadio InterviewMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi George,

      I know what you’re saying about “what” someone could get out of a blogger (financial gain), however my biggest concern would be the time, money and stress a lawsuit could cause. Ugh!

  12. Still grateful to RealDelia for finding you…

    This post is both alarming, and somehow, not surprising. I can see extension of libel issues to online media in general, but to comments?

    I attempt to refrain from details that would compromise my privacy, that of my family, or anyone else I know. It’s not simple, and unlike print media, there is no editorial process (or stable of attorneys) to review copy before it is published. All the more reason for acting / writing responsibly, as you say.

    Regarding comments, I moderate. One of the reasons I do so is to assure quality control on my site. Disagree with me? Fine. Trash talk (or defame)? A whole other matter.

    Very informative. Thank you.
    Check out BigLittleWolf’s awesome post.Kids use condoms- but adults don’tMy Profile

  13. PatriciaNo Gravatar says:

    I think this is an important issue and I need to be more careful about my notices on my blog…
    I try to link to the book companies that are sending me a free book to review…but many of my reviews are just books that I liked and I don’t tell people of the no fee or payment on those posts. I think I should be more careful to say that….

    I have had to take only two comments off my blog…and I have found that several folks have deleted my comments off their blogs – I just do not go back… and when I did research for news sources, they had insurance and coverage, but I had to trust.

    I don’t do private counseling anymore because the private malpractice insurance is just too much money. I think many ministers have stopped doing counseling- period

    We live in times with a lot of hate floating around and a lot of greed. Responsibility is a big issue.

    I see to that there is lots of work going on to close the internet and insist that bloggers and political bloggers get a license and a degree…but then we are not hearing about that here – My family in OZ are sending me dozens of news stories about it…

  14. Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Patricia,

    That’s smart. If our comments make a blogger feel so uneasy they feel the need to delete them, then it’s best not to go back.

    Yes. The cost of insurance for some professionals has gotten so high many just leave their profession. When I was researching for this article, one site stated blog insurance is approximately $2500 a year/for a one million dollar policy. If insurance was required to blog, I’ll bet many would bow out due to the cost.

    Like you, I’ve heard rumblings about internet issues. For up to date information, click on the image at the top of the post. EFF has more information on their site/sidebar, AND is a great site to keep us updated on anything which could affect us.

  15. HilaryNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara .. amazingly helpful post .. it was something I picked up very early on .. that everything that we said could be used against us in the net world .. therefore just be careful & I don’t go the controversial route and just endeavour to be myself.

    Your most important comment is number 11 – blog responsibly .. but we must also stand up for what we feel is right .. and therefore number 10 too . . stand alongside others.

    At this moment I couldn’t afford to be sued .. but again I hope I’d never be in this position .. so I hope I never have to close comments, but I would probably continue to moderate them – before that though .. I’d ask you and others whether they just let the comments flow & then deal with the rogue ones – deleting them.

    A few people certainly are becoming more opportunistically predatory – I’d keep my eyes open for the time being .. being aware is essential ..

    Then posts like this are so useful .. as they remind us we need to remember .. particularly twitter and facebook .. and new social media in the future ….. the maxim “think before we speak/write” makes so much sense!!

    Great post – thank you … Hilary
    Check out Hilary’s awesome post.Guest Posting today over at Marketing Tips for AuthorsMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Hilary,

      Yes. We do have to be aware of not only those who are commenting on our blog, but what we’re saying on social networking sites. Blogging responsibly and taking precautions while online should help to keep all of us out of trouble.

  16. suzenNo Gravatar says:

    Geeez Laweez Barbara! Kind of ironic I read your blog about this after hubs and I had quite the discussion about the old “freedom of speech” issue just last night. On the news there was a church group protesting at the funeral of a soldier with horrid signs of “Death to Soldiers!” etc. causing unbelievable anguish for the poor grieving family. Yet the freedom of speech thing….I really think it goes too far. Then THIS? Getting sued for what you write on a blog? Or a comment? But isn’t THIS freedom of speech? Seems a muddled crazy mess to me! Is it going to get to the point that we supposedly HAVE freedom of speech but so fear litigation that we can’t express this freedom? I don’t know, Barb. Seems the world just gets nuttier as time goes on! Thanks for this insightful bit of news. Nothing should surprise me anymore I suppose, but it so seems like our “rights” get stretched and pulled like taffy, as well as getting chewed up and swallowed!!
    hugs
    suZen

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Suzen,

      I heard about the protests at the soldier’s funeral too, and it broke my heart.

      And yes, it is sad to think we could be sued over a comment left on our blog. Like you said, “Geeeeez Laweeez”.

  17. Keith DavisNo Gravatar says:

    Barbara
    That’s a lot of research you’ve done – makes it easier for the rest of us with all the links.

    I check all my comments and would remove anything that I thought could be a problem.
    We can all have our opinions but just as in polite conversation socially… there is no need to shout them to the world.
    Be yourself but be polite.
    Check out Keith Davis’s awesome post.Facts tell… emotions sellMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Keith,

      I like your advice; be yourself, but be polite. As you said, “shouting” in any form isn’t necessary to get a point across.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along?

  18. Hi Barbara.
    I wouldn’t close comments either. Being sued over comments isn’t something I worry about that much, but I can appreciate the need to be aware. If someone left a derogatory comment on my blog, if it made it past moderation it would be deleted promptly. Makes you more aware of the comments you leave on other blogger’s sites too. I had no idea you could be sued for a commenter’s comment. Wonderful job on this post, Barbara — great research!
    Check out Davina Haisell’s awesome post.For the Love of Story StructureMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Davina,

      I couldn’t believe this either when I read it. Who’d a thought?

      I agree. Being aware of all comments, ours and others is a great way to keep us out of hot water in the first place.

  19. Evelyn LimNo Gravatar says:

    One of the first things I need to do is to close off all comments on my older posts. Thanks for highlighting about being sued for comments. Very useful to know!

    Evelyn
    Check out Evelyn Lim’s awesome post.20 Inspirational Abundance QuotesMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Evelyn,

      That’s a good point. By closing comments on older posts, we may be able to alleviate some of the potential problems, plus I’ve found by doing so also reduces the amount of spam I receive.

  20. JamesNo Gravatar says:

    No, I would not close comments. Like nearly everyone here has already stated, you do need to keep an eye on them as well as moderate what you say yourself.
    If someone wants to make a statement that could cause problems, they can start their own blog to make them.
    It’s free speech as long as you’re willing to pay the price.
    Check out James’s awesome post.Blogger VS WordPresscom – Which Is A Better Free BlogMy Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi James,

      I LOVE your idea of having those who want to be THAT vocal to start their own blogs and not hijack ours. That way they can say whatever they want, when they want and deal with the consequences themselves.

  21. J.D. MeierNo Gravatar says:

    Very nice rundown.

    Ignorance used to be bliss when I was a kid, but in today’s information world, that clearly is not the case.
    Check out J.D. Meier’s awesome post.Getting Results the Agile Way is Now Available in PrintMy Profile

  22. JoyNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara,
    I’m wanting to live in a peace filled world, so I like my little bubble on the boat..
    I wouldn’t close comments on my blog..I agree a disclaimer and moderation should cover that…
    It makes me sad to think that bloggers are suing others..and really why can’t we all get along..
    I have been linked before and asked to be removed from that link.. I stand for peace and joy and I wouldn’t want that to be misrepresented..
    But, there is free speech, and the idea what you share will be given back..so hopefully all will share nicely…
    Check out Joy’s awesome post.Wednesday Wisdom- Luxurious…My Profile

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Joy,

      Yes. It’s sad when bloggers have to be concerned about being sued. I’m with you, we should all share nicely.