The use of online chat rooms, forums and groups is a risky activity and fertile ground for litigation based on defamation laws. Unlike other materials published online, website owners don’t have full control over discussion threads.
The Defamation Act 1996 sets out the current defamation regime, although the Act is under review. The Act amends the laws of defamation and with respect to actions for defamation or malicious falsehood.
The instigator of libellous material (written, spoken or pictorial) is responsible and liable for any damage to another person’s reputation. Online users risk bringing an action for defamation when using website chat rooms, forums and groups.
The ISP can, unless it has actual or constructive knowledge of the statement, or failed to take reasonable care, take advantage of the 'secondary disseminator' and avoid liability for a defamatory posting to the newsgroup or forum.
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 also provides a further defence against a claim for damages will be available to those who innocently host (i.e. store) information on behalf of others.
However, the status of businesses who do not provide Internet services is less clear.
Defamation Act 2013
The rules on defamation were updated with the Defamation Act 2013