Digital Health Intelligence Limited operates the digitalhealth.net website and the Digital Health news service. The site hosts user-generated content, including comments from readers on news stories, features and other items.
We host comments because we want to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss our content and to debate and share issues of professional and public interest.
However, we want to make sure that this happens in a safe and inclusive fashion, so these opportunities are available to as many people as possible.
We also need to stay within the law and we need you to be aware of some of the legal risks to us – and to you – that can occur when the site is misused.
There are five simple guidelines that we expect all participants in reader comments on digitalhealth.net to abide by.
- We acknowledge criticism of the articles we publish, but will not allow misrepresentation of Digital Health or personal attacks on our journalists to be published on our website.
- We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks on individuals or on other site users will not be tolerated. If you find yourself involved in a discussion which is becoming increasingly heated, consider walking away from it rather than getting drawn into comments that might breach our guidelines.
- In line with this, we will not tolerate racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia or contributions that could be interpreted as such. We will also remove any content that others might find offensive or threatening; so please try to keep a reasonable tone.
- We will consider curtailing conversations that descend into partisanship or generalisations, so please keep it relevant.
- We expect commercial posters to identify themselves and their interests if they are making points in which they have a commercial interest, and we will remove any posts that are blatantly advertising or spam-like.
Legal issues and the Defamation Act 2013
User generated content, including comments, is subject to the UK laws of libel, copyright and contempt of court (among others).
Digital Health Intelligence Limited incurs risks as the website host, but users can also risk civil or criminal legal action. If you think your post might result in a legal problem, the best course is not to post it. If you want to raise an issue about a policy, company, or patient safety issue that is likely to throw up legal issues, please contact one of our reporters so we can investigate.
The major legal risk to publishers in the UK is libel. This is a branch of defamation, the law that protects people’s reputation. A libel action can be extremely expensive in terms of legal costs and damages and website users have been successfully sued for posts they have written.
If we do remove material in response to a complaint under the Defamation Act, under no circumstances should it be re-posted to the site.
- Don’t defame the reputation of individuals, by casting aspersions on them, their career or competence.
Suggestions of criminality, dishonesty, fraud, incompetence, insolvency, and immorality can all be defamatory unless they can be proved to be true by the person making (publishing) the accusation. This is not an exhaustive list. Think, how would you feel if it were written about you?
- Don’t make sweeping statements rubbishing companies, their products, or procedures. All the same issues arise, and companies tend to have both the lawyers and the money to pursue claims.
- Remember that repeating something libellous that someone else has written or said makes you liable for it as well – and that this applies even if you have “only” included a link.
- Honestly-held opinions can be defended against a libel action, but they must be based on correct facts and be clearly-expressed as an opinion.
A complicating factor is that if your opinion suggests that a person or company has dishonest or improper motives it can destroy what is known as an “honest comment” defence. As a rule, stick to commenting on what people have done, not on what you think they were thinking when they did it.
- The Defamation Act 2013 gives Digital Health Intelligence a new defence against complaints about defamatory statements posted on our website.
To make use of this defence, we must be able to contact the poster, and to ask them whether they want the statements complained of to be removed or to fight the case. We will use the details that we hold about posters to do this. We have to work to very tight deadlines (usually 48 hours) and prompt responses will be required.
Other legal issues than can give rise to problems for us – and you – are: contempt of court (prejudicial comment on crime following an arrest or an ongoing jury trial); copyright (using someone else’s words or pictures without their permission); privacy and confidentiality (or sharing the private information of other people or organisations in ways that contravene the law).
Moderating and removing user generated material
As a general rule, we will remove, rather than edit, comments that breach our community rules, that we think are legally problematic, or that have been complained about.
We may contact posters by email to explain our decision or to request further details; and we will contact posters if we receive a notice of complaint as required by the Defamation Act 2013. The website manager’s decision is final in the removal of any material.
We provide “report” functionality for users who wish to draw our attention to breaches of the community rules, or to issue a notice of complaint. If you spot something problematic, please let us know.
Participants who persistently or wilfully ignore the community standards, participation guidelines or terms and conditions will have their posting privileges for reader comments either suspended or withdrawn. Again, the website manager’s decision is final in the suspension or withdrawal of such privileges.
Act with maturity and consideration for other users, and you should have no problems. Help to make this an intelligent place for discussion and it will be.
If you are tempted to rubbish and individual, organisation or company – or to make serious allegations about them – re-read our handy guide to defamation and don’t do it.
A useful rule of thumb is – don’t do anything daft.
If you have suggestions or questions about any aspect of community participation on digitalhealth.net, you can write to email@example.com