This week the European Court of Human Rights ruled against an Estonian news site, holding the website responsible for threatening and offensive comments left by users.
The court case against news website Delfi SA began in January 2006, when a story about a local ferry company’s new routes received a number of angry comments from online readers. About 20 of the comments made on the article contained offensive language and personal threats towards the ferry company’s majority shareholder which were not removed by the news site.
Upset with the public attention given to these vicious comments, the ferry company sued Delfi SA in an Estonian court and won. After a lost appeal within the Estonian courts, the news website brought the case forward to the European Court of Human Rights in hopes that the verdict be overthrown. However, the unanimous verdict from seven judges suggested that a commercial website allowing anonymous comments could reasonably be held responsible for them.
Officially, the court ruled that Delfi could have realized that the violent and negative comments could have an adverse effect on both the company’s revenue by damaging its reputation, as well as to its managers as the target of unacceptable hate speech or gratuitous insult.