Feeds

Bloody hard to run a forum in Sweden – Lawyer speaks

Legal unrealities

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

(Mikael Pawlo is Associate, Advokatfirman Lindahl, working with Internet law issues for Aftonbladet Nya Medier.

In a recent ruling by the district court of Stockholm, the publisher of the Swedish daily Aftonbladet was found guilty of hate speech and sentenced to a conditional sentence and fines. An anonymous user in a moderated forum on the Aftonbladet web site uttered the hate speech.

It has been debated whether the speech was removed from the forum quickly enough or not, but that is an issue not dealt with in this case. According
to the court the crime was committed immediately upon publication.

The legal situation in Sweden regarding freedom of speech on the Internet is ambiguous. According to the laws regulating freedom of speech, the publisher has a strict accountability for everything published in his
paper. Only during extreme circumstances should the publisher escape accountability. When it comes to the Internet, the publisher of a web forum can be held accountable if he is a registered publisher and works
for a media company.

All serious media companies in Sweden have a registered publisher for their Internet editions. In the popular debate, it is often argued that the accountability of the publisher should be
different depending on whether moderation is made before or after the publication.

If the moderation is made after publication, the publisher should - according to this line of reasoning - never be held accountable for the speech published in the Internet forums. The law of freedom of expression does not deal with this particular issue, and while there are no precedents it is hard to tell with certainty what the law is. However, for commercial and ethical reasons, few serious publishers would run an
un-moderated forum. Without moderation, the forums for a major publication like Aftonbladet would contain massive amount of hate speech.

Why is this a problem? Should not the publisher be accountable for the web edition in the same fashion he is responsible for the printed edition? You
could argue that a responsible publisher should not publish irresponsible content, like hate speech. However, such an approach will carry some
negative aspects. This will inevitably lead to a situation where the free speech aspects of the Internet are not embraced.

A publisher can easily edit five pieces submitted to an editorial or opinion section in a printed edition, but he can not possibly edit 5.000 pieces submitted to the same section online. At least not if he will be held strictly accountable for everything published.

Hence, this will lead to a more restrictive policy
on what will be published on the Internet. The 5,000 pieces can not be published, since they need thorough editing. The debate among peers will die or move to other forums, not run by serious and established
publishers. From an economical viewpoint, media companies aiming at a higher standard for their forums through moderation will not be able to run open forums in the same fashion non-media companies may. This will
create asymmetries in the market place. It is a side issue, but the all companies running forums on the Internet should compete on the same terms,
notwithstanding legal technicalities.

I do not think the district court ruling was wrong in legal terms. However, I think we need to consider the legal realities of Internet publication. Maybe the law needs to be changed in order to preserve freedom of speech on the Internet.

To me it makes sense to make every user responsible for his or her speech combined with notice and takedown legislation. This will ultimately lead
to a situation where Internet anonymity can not be preserved. However, the publisher should only disclose the identity of a user in extreme cases of hate speech and other legally defined harmful content. The publisher should be held liable upon non-removal of hate speech upon notification.

Notice and takedown policies are very hard to deal with in practice. A publisher facing a notice and takedown challenge will in most cases remove
the content in question in order to escape responsibility. However, a serious publisher can distinguish between non-contentious notices and
unreasonable notices. If the media companies and their publishers are held accountable for everything published in their web forums we will soon face
an Internet where the possibility of a widened debate has been seriously damaged by law. Let us grasp the uniqueness of the Internet before it is gone. The Internet is not a newspaper. ®

_______________________________________________________

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.