All this week I am publishing examples of legal dilemmas that a journalism student might face (Read my previous post on students being publishers, and the responsibilities that come with that for the background). I can’t promise a ‘right answer’ at the end of the week – but I hope you can comment on what a student publisher might do – and why. Here’s the fourth – probably the most complex of the lot:
Case 4: your Facebook page starts getting some nasty comments
You run a Facebook page for a university society group, publishing news about what the group is doing, links to relevant events, and how-tos.
One week, while you are on holiday, a series of hateful comments appear on the site, all from different accounts.
- One is a joke by Member A about Jews which many commenters think is sick.
- In response, Member B says that all Muslims should be beaten up on sight;
- A further comment by Member C adds “homosexuals” to the list for the same treatment;
- And for good measure Member D says “Polacks” should be beaten up too – although you know the commenter personally and think the term was used in a tongue-in-cheek fashion (given the timestamp you suspect she was under the influence).
A few days later Member E messages you directly to tell you about those messages, and ask that two commenters be kicked off the page.
To complicate things further, it isn’t the first time that Member E has asked you to kick people off the page – they have been arguing both privately and publicly on the page that a number of openly gay people are trying to ‘hijack’ the group and openly gay members should not be allowed to join it.
- What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue?
- What defence could you mount?
- How likely is it that legal action would result?
- Would you publish – and why?