Users’ Comments Becoming Dangerous for Online Media

Samvel Martirosyan

Media researcher

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued the final ruling in the case of Delfi AS v. Estonia, which will have a serious impact on online news media.

This unprecedented ruling refers to the liability of an online news portal for comments posted by users. The site was obliged to compensate for moral damages the party affected by offensive comments left by readers below an article posted on Delfi‘s website in 2009. 

The internet news portal took the case to the ECHR, which issued a judgment that will have an impact also on Armenian news media.

The ECHR stated that the ruling of the Estonian courts was justified and proportionate, and there had been no violation of freedom of expression. As a basis for its judgment, the ECHR noted:

  • The insulting and threatening nature of the comments
  • The fact that the news portal failed to remove the comments in a reasonable period of time, even though it removed them the same day
  • The news portal encouraged the comments, since its profits increased as a result
  • Furthermore, the court took into consideration that the fine imposed by the Estonian courts (320 EUR) was not disproportionate

This judgment suggests that websites in Armenia should also be concerned with comments left on their sites — since it’s clear that any offended individual might accuse a website for using comments to increase its ratings, drive traffic to its site, and to increase its resulting profits.

For instance, the case Artur Grigoryan v. Hraparak would have had completely different consequences today (if we ignore the fact that Grigoryan was asking for a disproportionately large amount).

This, of course, should motivate news (and not only) websites to adopt a more serious and responsible approach to readers’ comments. 

Moderating comments, without a doubt, is a complicated and scrupulous task, especially if we consider that there are sites that get hundreds or thousands of comments daily. 

Particularly difficult is the task of those sites that allow users to leave comments through their social media accounts.

Samvel Martirosyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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