Online Comments and Defamation
The European Perspective
Keywords:freedom of expression, speech, Internet, comments, hosting service operators, defamation
A defamatory statement is a false or untrue statement that harms the reputation of a living person. In the digital environment, defamatory content can be easily shared and may remain available online for a very long period. At first, anonymous Internet communication was predominantly seen as a value in itself – a mechanism that advances the public debate, protects political dissension, and furthers due process. However, the rapid growth of social networks and digital platforms has transformed the content and tone of online interactions. This paper analyzes online comments that may threaten the reputation of a person from a freedom of speech and within the auspices of European law. These comments typically appear as anonymous statements, signed only with a ‘nickname’ not allowing for identification of a poster. The European Union has adopted several pieces of legislation that set the legal status of defamatory online comments. The Directive on Electronic Commerce is of utmost importance given that it regulates the dissemination of online content. However, the European approach to defamation cannot be understood unless the European Union’s system is combined with that of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights’ approach towards defamatory online comments is best demonstrated in its decision on Delfi v. Estonia and MTE v. Hungary.