Estonian News Site Held Accountable for Readers’ Threatening Comments


The trend towards online news sources is increasing with technological advances and generational preferences. As more people choose to obtain the news online, instead of in print, news stations and papers will have to adapt to this new outlet. Most online articles allow readers to interact via open commenting capabilities, which was not an option available when print news was the only source. This is the root of the issue in a recent European Court of Human Rights case.

This past Wednesday, October 16, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights held that Estonian news site, DelfiSA, was responsible for “threatening and offensive” comments posted by readers in response to an article published in 2006. This specific article involved a ferry company’s route change. The affects of this route change influenced the opening of roads leading to offshore islands. This outraged some citizens and in turn there were about twenty threatening comments posted on the article, targeting the leading shareholder of the ferry company.

The ferry company consequently sued DelfiSA in local court and prevailed. DelfiSA first appealed to the local court unsuccessfully. When the case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights it was decided that, “there was a higher than average risk that the negative comments could go beyond the boundaries of acceptable criticism and reach the level of gratuitous insult or hate speech”. (Wall Street Journal) In the United States it is common for news sites to hire moderators to monitor comments, most likely to prevent such a suit as this.

Will this decision set a precedent for international law, holding all news sites responsible for the comments of their readers? Do you agree that companies which report the news should be held responsible for the views or comments of their readers? Should online news sites continue to allow the public to comment on their articles, in the name of open debate and freedom of speech, or prevent comment capabilities to return to the one way communication street that print news once was?



Wall Street Journal




One comment

  1. In addition to raising interesting freedom of speech issues, this case also points to a new role that companies are to play in this digital age. Readers should be free and feel free to express their views, opinions and concerns freely, which the internet continues to allows them to do very easily. However our digital behavior affects our physical lives, sometimes in good ways, other times in bad ways. Offensive, nasty and threatening comments are a different category of expressing opinion, and it might be very helpful for companies like news sites to be responsible for filtering and monitoring what comes up in their websites.

    Nevertheless, I do not think that this decision will cause a great international ripple. The ECHR seems to have based its decision on this very particular situation and seems to be more interested in imposing a responsibility on what companies choose to publish. This responsibility is not unreasonable and I think it is an important one. Foreseeing that an article might cause negative reactions (as the ones in this case) should be within the considerations of any news site. Most should have people working to monitor and review what comes up in their website and have a protocol to appropriately deal with it, as many websites do already with things like illegal posts or copyright infringements. It should be applicable throughout that all website owners are to be responsible for the content and material of their websites.

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