This digital age has witnessed the unprecedented rise of various means of information on the internet, among which blogging is one of them. Blogging which was once seen as a pastime, has now become a legitimate source of income. This is because corporations and individuals have realized that it can be a tool for marketing, building a brand, and even creating awareness about a brand. However, with the great benefits comes potential liabilities.
LIABILITY OF BLOGGERS FOR VISITOR COMMENT
A blog allows for the sharing of opinions, airing of views, and comments by the readers. This definitely makes the blog post interesting and interactive. In the process of visitors doing this, one offense that the blogger can become liable for is libel. This means that if a visitor to a blog makes a comment, a blogger can become liable for the visitor’s post, notwithstanding the fact that he did not post such a comment. Thus, a blogger should exercise caution and ensure that comments are vetted to avoid liability.
Libel is the dissemination of a false statement in a written or permanent form through newspapers, text messages, radio, television, etc. Section 373 of the Criminal Code [i]defines libel as a matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing the person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his or her profession or trade by injury to his reputation.
Under this section of the Criminal Code Act, a person guilty of this could be liable to two years imprisonment. In addition, the aggrieved person may bring a civil suit for damages
Recent cases and legislation buttress this point. The Cyber Crime Act criminalizes sending a false message and stipulates sanction for it. It states that any message which is “false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another…is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7 million or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.[ii] This applies to online libel that happens on the internet, social media, blogs, and tweets.
In Nicholas Okoye v Ladun Laidi & ors[iii], a blogger was held liable for a defamatory comment made by a reader which was deemed offensive by the plaintiff. The blog post incited the reader to comment that the plaintiff and his wife were having separate extramarital affairs. The plaintiff sued the blogger for the visitor’s comment, the blogger was held liable. In the judgment, inter alia, it was held that bloggers should take immediate measures to prevent offensive or threatening statements.
Apart from libel, a blogger can be liable for the criminal offense of sedition and incitement. Sedition is an act, speech, or publication made inciting insurrection against the established order, and Incitement is the encouragement of another (public) to do an act or make an omission to commit a crime. [iv]
Read also: ONLINE DEFAMATION; THE LIABILITY OF BLOGGERS
REQUIREMENT FOR LIABILITY
A blogger becomes liable for libel, notwithstanding whether he made such a comment or not, once three conditions are fulfilled. In Skye Bank Plc v. Chief Moses Bolanle Akinpelu, [v] the conditions necessary to succeed in an action for libel were expressly stated by Ogebe JSC. These conditions are;
- The statement must be false
- The statement must refer to the plaintiff
- The statement must have been published. it means that the statement must have been seen by others apart from the plaintiff
This principle has been enunciated in a number of other cases such as Onu v Agbese,[vi] Service Press Limited v. Nnamdi Azikwe[vii] that it is trite law that to succeed in an action of libel, the Plaintiff must prove three fundamental elements of defamation.
The statement must be one that exposes to ridicule, and contempt in the general public resulting in damage to his reputation.
“Publication” means such a statement is known or heard by other people aside from the plaintiff
(the person whom the statement was written about). Although, at a mere glance at the legal meaning of publication, one would assume that as it applies to a blog, the visitor would be deemed liable. However, the reverse is the case as the publisher is seen through the eyes of the law as one who allows the post in the first place, that is, the owner of the blog
Once these conditions are fulfilled, the plaintiff can bring an action of defamation against the owner of the blog.
RATIONALE FOR THIS LEGAL POSITION
One of the problems that are associated with the online space is the use of the internet to perpetrate online crime, hate speech, fake news, and cybercrime. To curb this gradual menace and restore sanity to the online space, various guidelines were put in place to regulate the online space and, by extension, a blog. Similar rationale accounts for pulling down offensive posts on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. This also applies to a blog. A blog should principally serve as a source of information[viii].
These vices prompted the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to establish a guideline that would regulate online platforms called the “Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries.”[ix]
In addition, the structure of a blog gives a blogger the right to control the inflow of comments. He can exercise his power to moderate or edit a post that he deems outrightly disparaging or derogatory. He is also saddled with the power to remove an already published post that he deems offensive[x]. This power seems to be why a blogger is held liable, as the law expects the blogger to be proactive and assume full responsibility by removing the offensive comment.
HOW TO AVOID LIABILITY AS A BLOGGER
Certain safeguards could be put in place to avoid liability by a blogger.
1. Establish the terms and conditions for use: Rules regulating conduct on the blog should be expressly stated, such as hate speech, harassment or bullying, illicit content and explicit post encouraging violence, etc. There should also be consequences for violating such rules. For example, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms establish policies that guide the platform. Failure to comply leads to suspension or even banning such an account.
2. Monitoring and Moderating comments: As earlier stated, a blogger can moderate and even remove comments. Therefore, false comments should not be allowed to pass through the blog.
Also, avoid comment that is anonymous. A system should be put in place that allows visitors to comment only if they provide their social media login. This will help in tracing the identity of the originator of the post.[xi]
3. Have an Exclusion Liability Clause: The import of this clause is transferring legal liability from the blogger to the visitor who made the comment. Here, the clause clearly states that if the visitor posts illegal comments, the visitor would be legally responsible for the consequences.[xii]
It is suggested that the law should be reviewed to make visitors principally responsible for any offensive statement rather than bloggers. The extent of liability against a blogger in this instance should only be upon failure to report or moderate such comment once they become notified immediately.
Bloggers should ensure they become abreast of current trends in the legal world as it relates to blogging and employ the services of a lawyer in order to avoid incurring liabilities.
[i] C38, LFN 2004
[ii] Cyber Crime (Prohibition Prevention) Act, section 24
[iv] Crmiinal Code Act Cap38 LFN 2004, Section 50 & 513
[v]  3 (Pt.1) MJSC 158
[vi] (1985)1 NWLR (PT.4) 704
[vii] JELR 82729 (WACA)
[viii]Zeenat O.S., “Of regulation and Nigeria’s new social media code of practice, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/538411-of-regulation-and-nigerias-new-social-media-code-of-practice-by-zeenat-o-sambo.html?tztc=1 accessed on February 10, 2023
[x] Steven Azubike, “ Blogger held liable for defamatory statements-Lessons”, < https://stephenlegal.ng/blogger-held-liable-for-defamatory-comments-on-her-blog-lessons/> accessed on February 9th, 2023
[xi] Lawpadi Nigeria, “how to start a blog in Nigeria: the legal issues”, < https://lawpadi.com/blogging-in-nigeria-a-legal-guide/> accessed on February 10, 2023
[xii] Termfeeds, “ Do Blog Count as User Generated Content?”, < https://www.termsfeed.com/blog/blogcomments-user-generated-content/> accessed on February 10, 2023.
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