An interesting case is about to play out between Gillingham Football Club and the BBC, over a comment left on a blog post on the BBC sport website. The club wants the BBC to reveal the identity of a comment poster who made allegations of racial hatred within the club.
This isn’t the first time someone has tried to take on an anonymous comment poster, only a few months ago a woman failed to obtain an order forcing The Daily Mail Online to disclose the identities of two people who made comments about her, under a story on a successful libel case that she brought.
Anonymous comment posters have long enjoyed the ability to say whatever the hell they like on the internet without fear of retribution. You only need to look at the pool of unintelligent awfulness that is the comment section on YouTube to realise the level at which these people operate. However when it comes to posting on news websites should the rules be different?
The story itself is obviously regulated by the PCC and has to abide by all of the same laws and regulations as a story would if it appeared in print, however it seems as though people can often say whatever they like underneath. Granted not everyone bothers reading the comments (for precisely the reasons outlined above) but why should they be able to libel anyone they like? If you’ve read a story on a court case then read something under it questioning the validity of the claims, even though the story is the more reputable source, you’re still likely to question it a little more than you would otherwise have done.
At least on websites such as the BBC you have to register an account and posts are monitored so that the particularly awful are blocked, but plenty slip through the net and often those making claims are left online. It’s a difficult one to call as the freedom of comment online is important, but equally so are the rights of those talked about. As this has already been tested in the courts with the Mail Online case, it’s likely this one will go the same way and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing. If the BBC is forced to reveal the name of the person who posted the comment, it might make others think twice before posting some ill-informed nonsense that they heard in the pub.