Can Online Review Sites Claim Immunity in Libel Cases? Possibly – or MAYBE NOT …
Further to what I wrote about the libel case being brought against a TripAdvisor reviewer, I’ve been looking into the legal position for review sites as the publishers of possibly libellous content.
From what I’ve read here:
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act appears to protect TripAdvisor and other review sites from claims in the USA, granting them immunity as online publishers of material created by third parties (i.e. reviews and forum posts). Presumably that immunity does not extend to other jurisdictions e.g. Europe.
Even in the USA, the issue of immunity for the ICS (Interactive Computer Service, e.g. TripAdvisor, Yelp) when the reviewer is anonymous is a controversial one, since that leaves no course for redress if the complainant cannot identify the perpetrator of the libel. I don’t think that liability in those circumstances has been tested in court – let me know if it has.
However, as the writer of the alleged libel in this recent case (Jonathan Nicholls) has been identified by the claimant, then TA would seem to be in the clear if Section 230 immunity applies.
EXCEPT: I have been told that once TA or any other online review site has been advised of the libellous nature of a review, the Section 230 defence is invalidated unless it removes the review from its site. If it leaves the disputed review in place then it becomes liable to the libel claim. I don’t have any case or court rulings to quote on this, but it seems reasonable and I’ll carry on looking.
As a side issue, the guy who’s being sued has asked TripAdvisor to remove his libel claim review. I wonder, will TA help their reviewer out? The claimant says she’ll drop the case if they do, but the review was still there when I last looked.