How to Lower the Risks of Defamation in Your Online Forum

Online forums are a great tool for many websites, as they allow people to gather and air their views, however volatile! Often good places for working through questions, issues, and interesting topics, occasionally they can also become a bit inflammatory or even downright thoughtless and nasty. If you're running an online forum as part of your business, it's important to distance yourself from any thoughtless commentary that a forum poster might make that ends up being defamatory. Here are some suggestions.


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    Use your terms and conditions. Have a lawyer draw up some tight conditions about usage of the forum by both those who post in the forum and those who read it. Things to consider include:
    • Making it absolutely clear that the website and your company are not responsible for the statements made by third parties using your forum.
    • Explain that you do not play a role of editing forum content and therefore have no control over what is written there.
    • Make it clear that defamatory or other legally and morally reprehensible comments won't be tolerated and will be investigated and/or removed.
    • As part of the terms and conditions, place the onus back on those posting on the forums. Make them responsible for what they post by stating clearly that whatever they post must be true or a genuinely held honest opinion, or similar language depending on the elements that go to making a defamation action in your relevant jurisdiction. Make it clear which jurisdiction of laws your site is operated under, to try to prevent "legal forum shopping".
    • Inform forum users that you retain the right to remove or ban them, either temporarily or permanently, for a breach of these conditions.
    • Consider requiring users to indemnify you for their comments. That way, if you are sued, you may be able to pursue them for a recovery of costs.
    • Talk to your lawyer about the extent of these terms and conditions and what the precise content should be to cover you properly. The ability or worth of any one of these conditions is dependent on your jurisdiction and the manner in which your forum works.
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    Have those moderating the forum help police it. If you have several forum moderators, give them a list of things you consider require instant removal. As part of this, make it easy for anyone using the forum to be able to contact you, your company, or your staff to make a claim that something defamatory has been printed in it. Let them know that it will be removed if it appears defamatory after an investigation.
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    Keep your lawyer on hand. Not all cases of claims of defamatory material or offensive statements will be obvious to you and your team. In addition, you may have defences to claims that something is defamatory, so don't jump over the hot coals straight off. You may need to flick some of them to your legal team to check out and reach a decision on.


  • Check out forum warnings written for existing sites of repute in your line of business or website style. You might get a better idea of the extent of the terms and conditions that would suit your forum from reading how like sites deal with the possibility of defamation.


  • Be prepared to remove information rather than taking a stand that could harm your site.

Things You'll Need

  • Solid legal advice from a lawyer familiar with this area of the law
  • Terms and conditions clear on your website and/or forum page
  • Moderators

Sources and Citations

  • Michael Smith, Defamation and the risk with online forums, pp. 44-45, in Start Up, (February 2011) – research source.

Article Info

Categories: Internet Forums and Message Boards | Legal Matters