Tag Archives: racism

Test your online journalism law: 4 – nasty comments on your Facebook page

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.

The questions

  1. What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue?
  2. What defence could you mount?
  3. How likely is it that legal action would result?
  4. Would you publish – and why?

What you need to know about the laws on harassment, data protection and hate speech {UPDATED: Stalking added}

The following is taken from the law chapter of The Online Journalism Handbook. The book blog and Facebook page contain updates and additions – those specifically on law can be found here.


The Protection From Harrassment Act 1997 is occasionally used to prevent journalists on reporting on particular individuals. Specifically, any conduct which amounts to harassment of someone can be considered to a criminal act, for which the victim can seek an injunction (followed by arrest if broken) or damages.

One example of a blogger’s experience is illustrative of the way the act can be used with regard to online journalism, even if no case reaches court. Continue reading