WASHINGTON: If someone posts content on your website that is defamatory, constitutes
hate speech, disseminates child pornography or invades someone's
privacy, are you liable? Most major developing countries do not think
so, but this could change, warn researchers.
And as internet use
expands around the globe, so does the potential liability for the owners
of websites, search engines, social media sites and other online
platforms, who are subject to laws in each country where their websites
and services are accessible.
"As sites such as Instagram and
Snapchat have exploded in the number of photos and videos and other
information posted, this problem has exponentially increased," said Sean
O'Connor from University of Washington.
"Each of those platforms
has this potential liability hanging out there, with the firehose of
content that's being posted every day," O'Connor noted in a university
To advance understanding of the issue, University of
Washington's Center for Advanced Study and Research on Innovation Policy
(CASRIP) recently commissioned and released a series of reports on the
liability facing these kinds of online service providers as "internet
intermediaries," or entities that facilitate online use.
these intermediaries provide platforms where content can be posted by
users -- the most well-known include Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and
But the problem also affects search engines, blogs, network operators and even comments sections on websites and blogs.
16 reports focus on laws concerning hate speech, privacy, child
protection and defamation in five countries - India, China, Brazil,
Russia, and Thailand.
The five countries generally do not hold
internet intermediaries liable for unlawful content posted by users
unless they knew about the content and failed to remove it, Anna
Bakhmetyeva, CASRIP's Programme Manager, said.
usually grant online service providers immunity, referred to as "safe
harbour," provided they comply with certain rules and remove problematic
The reports cite a case in Brazil which
concluded that holding an online provider liable "would be the same as
holding the post offices liable for written crimes on letters, which
would be unreasonable."
At the same time, Bakhmetyeva said, some websites have become known havens for criminal or offensive material.
must be careful to balance protections for intermediaries with
enforcement against sites that ignore or even encourage hateful and
other problematic content, she said.
liability has become an issue of heightened focused in recent years, as
governments worldwide increasingly expect internet companies to police
illegal and other problematic content.
companies -- particular those with large numbers of users posting
content -- have a tremendous amount at stake in determining their
potential liability, O'Connor said.
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