Mumsnet versus Ford
LONDON – A row blew up this month between widely-read childcare expert Gina Ford and a community website used by 250,000 mothers in the UK, mumsnet.com. This has provoked renewed thinking about the legal status of comments made on the internet.Essentially, their hosting provider was threatened with legal action if they did not take down comments made in discussions about Gina Ford and her parenting advice that were deemed by her and her lawyers to be defamatory. The proposed remedy of prior monitoring of thousands of posts a day on a community website was not thought workable by the site managers, so instead they have asked all members not to discuss Gina Ford at all. The statement that Mumsnet have published about the episode from their perspective is well worth reading. As well as having links to relevant documents it explains very clearly the problem they face in trying to host open discussions in the UK legal environment. They point out that the situation would be very different under US law. One way to avoid legal difficulties is to host a site in the US and, perhaps, to set up an offshore company that is legally responsible for the site contents in a jurisdiction where suing for libel is more difficult. This is the path taken by controversial UK political blogger Guido Fawkes.It will be interesting to see how the tensions over libel law will play out as the internet becomes an increasingly significant medium. What is clear is that it is not good for the UK internet sector for there to be legal incentives to place your hosting business outside the country.