By Russell Loarridge | Posted on June 19, 2014
It’s hardly surprising that online libel litigation is becoming a growth industry. A steady surge in the number of social and digital channels has not only created a rich platform for user-generated content, it has exposed internet operators to the increased risk of publishing discriminatory or defamatory opinion. In the most extreme cases, without the appropriate due diligence and processes to identify and eradicate calumnious comments, a libel lawsuit could be just an errant mouse click away. So how do you strengthen operations to avoid it? It’s a question of identity.
Legislation to combat online defamation is evolving. In the US, publishers may be culpable if a blog post is followed by the publication of a defamatory comment. Likewise, in Europe web operators face stiff penalties if found in breach of defamation regulations.
In the UK, new libel laws came into force in January 2014 to give better protection to people expressing their opinions. The Act requires the claimants to show ‘serious harm’ before suing, making it harder for individuals to sue for defamation. The Act gives publishers 48 hours to remove potentially defamatory comments upon receipt of a written complaint. This ‘report and remove’ policy means companies must establish clear processes to enable the efficient handling of complaints, but it also gives them the opportunity to manage the process in-house rather than incurring unnecessary legal fees to defend a claim.
Publishers need to ensure that their systems are configured to identify, alert and manage problem posts, and to mitigate risk.
The Defamation Act introduces guidelines that allow website operators to place the responsibility of errant comments on the user who posted them. However, in order to identify users they will need to register. Registration provides a platform to inform users that their details may be divulged if they post defamatory comments. Despite registration, identity challenges still remain. IDs are relatively easy to fake. In addition to fake identity, there is the potential threat of ‘hidden identity.’ Whilst major brands like Facebook and LinkedIn believe user identities should be visible, anonymity remains popular. Due to this, publishers are reluctant to make registration a mandatory requirement. So how can they establish user identity and authenticity without driving people away?
The most effective solution is to maximize social registration technologies. Social login allows users to register for websites using the online persona of their choice. This simplifies the login process for users and strengthens accountability for site owners as social media accounts are harder to fake. Moreover the likelihood of posting a defamatory content is lessened by the fact users feel it is linked to their social identity.
User registration also presents a powerful marketing opportunity; data captured at registration can inform targeted content and commercial proposition. Data captured at registration also allows the site to personalize content, show more relevant advertisements, improve experience, and create richer engagements for users.
The most effective online brands will be those with the strongest sense of identity. As communications advance to create increased opportunities for online defamation, social login can help publishers develop the Brawn Identity. It’s the perfect weapon.
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