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Can You be Liable For Things Others Post on Your Website or Social Media?

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If you have a website or an online presence, either your own or through social media, you want customer and client engagement. Discussions, comments and opinions can make you money online. But sometimes, people say things you may not want them to say. Specifically, they may defame other people. Can you be sued if that happens?

The Way it Used to Be

It used to be when the internet was young, that this was an open question.

Then-popular providers like Compuserve or America Online would get sued when one person defamed another. That’s because in defamation law, whomever “publishes” a defamatory statement can be liable for the defamation, even if the publisher didn’t actually make or say the defamatory content.

But online services and internet service providers—as well as congress—realized that for the internet to grow, and for business to be conducted online, service providers and online publishers couldn’t always be held liable for the things that are said online.

The Communications Decency Act

That’s why the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996. The law, which is very short and simple, says that users or providers of “computer services” are not “publishers” for the purposes of defamation. Through time, the definition of who is protected has been expanded, to include anybody who provides or posts blogs, listservs or similar community forums online.

You can even edit, review, comment on, or review what is posted and still be immune for defamatory statements. You can be liable for any content you create through editing (for example, if you edited someone else’s comment, and your edit made the comment defamatory). You can even pay third parties to write things or comment or submit content, and be immune from their defamatory statements.

Note that this exception is just for online—when it comes to actual physical printed material, the old defamation rules still apply. So magazine or newspaper publishers can still be liable for the defamatory statements made by others, but which are published or distributed by those companies or mediums.

Exceptions: When You Can be Liable

There are some exceptions to the law, which you should be aware of, if you maintain any online presence that invites or hosts the public to comment or discuss anything. The law does not protect you from things like infringement claims (although there are steps you can take through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which can immunize you from infringement claims). The law also doesn’t protect you from criminal law violations that you host, or allow to be posted or hosted on your online presence.

And, of course, the actual maker of the defamatory statement—whomever writes or posts the defamatory statement—is still liable.

Questions about your online presence or legal issues surrounding what your business does online? Call the West Palm Beach business litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig today for help.




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