How to use UGC moderation effectively to avoid being sued

Posted by Crisp on

Failure to moderate user generated content can leave you legally responsible for inappropriate comments that are posted on your website.

This revelation came as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of a travel company that demanded a news site pay damages following a barrage of negative comments on one of the site’s articles.

Estonian news site Delfi published a story about controversial changes to a popular ferry route, sparking a multitude of inappropriate, offensive and even threatening comments about the ferry operator from readers.

The operator then sued Delfi, and an Estonian court ruled that the news site must pay about €320 in damages. Delfi appealed the decision on the grounds that it breaches the site’s right to freedom of expression but the ECHR disagreed because: “The comments were highly offensive; the portal failed to prevent them from becoming public, profited from their existence, but allowed their authors to remain anonymous; and, the fine imposed by the Estonian courts was not excessive.”

This undoubtedly has many digital publishers quaking in their boots, so here Crisp clarifies the situation by explaining what it means for your site and how to protect it from sensitive legal situations.



Offensive comments must be removed as quickly as possible

The court ruled that Delfi had not acted quickly enough to remove the negative content, despite it being brought to their attention by people reporting the inappropriate material.

It’s important to understand the laws of online publishing in your area

Journalism laws vary from country to country, so it’s important to keep up-to-date with new legal developments so you are able to comply with them and avoid any legal action being taken against you. This is especially important as the growth of new media regularly presents new problems that have yet to be addressed by the legal system, meaning changes to legislation may be more frequent than you think.

Automatically filtering words won’t protect you

This method of content moderation was used by Delfi but the court ruled that this system was inadequate when attempting to block offensive comments from being posted on the site.

Disclaimers won’t protect you either

Delfi’s website even had a disclaimer stating that posters were liable for the comments they submitted. However, the court ruled that it was unreasonable to hold users accountable when most of the comments were made anonymously – it therefore decided that the news site was responsible for all comments posted on its articles.



It’s better to be safe than sorry so you should use the highest level of comprehensive, 24/7 protection for your website. To protect yourself from being held accountable for libellous and defamatory comments you should:

Review all comments at lightning-fast speed

The moderation service of most moderation providers would probably advise digital publishers to pre-moderate all UGC. However, this can have a detrimental effect on the level of engagement and quality of interactivity with your website. Pre-moderation stunts the flow of conversation, making discussions tedious and out of time. Fast, high quality post-moderation preserves real-time communications, boosting your site’s popularity whilst protecting it from any legal implications.

Moderate rather than censor so you don’t need to remove all anonymous comments

While banning anonymous comments can reduce the number of inappropriate comments from inappropriate users who prefer not to be identified or held accountable for their statements; it also dramatically reduces the amount of valuable interaction with your site. By blocking anonymous users entirely, sites run a huge risk of isolating a large portion of their audience and cutting off communication from those who may wish to remain anonymous for perfectly innocent reasons (such as political or religious views that they don’t want to publicly broadcast).

Implementing an accurate and effective comment moderation solution means that you target only the offensive comments and remove them without sacrificing an abundance of valuable interactions.

Analyse context rather than single words for maximum accuracy

Delfi’s approach of detecting single inappropriate words was deemed inadequate by the courts. Not only does this method cause offensive comments to slip through the net undetected, it can also remove innocent comments that have been misunderstood and automatically removed. Accidentally removing harmless comments can offend and annoy users who don’t understand why their opinion wasn’t worth publishing – damaging user sentiment and the reputation of the website.

Both of these potential pitfalls can be avoided by analysing language in great detail to understand the context of each post. High quality user generated content moderation (UGC moderation) identifies suspicious behaviour and this in-depth analysis boosts user engagement with your content, promoting the popularity of the site and preventing comments that could cost your site highly in reputation and court costs.

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Written by Crisp

Crisp’s mission is to provide the fastest detection of critical issues and crises to protect global brands and platforms. From supporting PRs in reputational management and helping pharma brands to remain compliant, to protecting vulnerable individuals from the exploitation of bad actors... wherever social media has the potential to trigger a crisis, you can be sure we have expertise to share.

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