Saturday, May 08, 2010


Cyberworld is an interesting place. You will find virtual libraries, gaming, blogging, photo exchange sites and social network sites among many others. One of the most popular sites in the internet are the virtual discussion forums and blogs.

They typically allow you to post your rebuttal or comments, anonymously or otherwise, on a myriad of social, political or economic topics. Some of these interactive sites are invaluable. Medical discussion forums allow someone to exchange vital experiences on ailments with others. Mechanical or electronic discussion forums assist in locating elusive spare parts and fixing problems that appear complicated. Political and social discussion forums like Mashada, YahooGroups, KenyaTalk and Jukwaa allow you to comment on any topic under the sun. Popular Kenyan blogs like Kumekucha generate a high number of comments and some are invariably defamatory and offensive. Therein lies the big risk of defamation.

Heated comments sometimes border on the defamatory which is defined as a false accusation of an offense or a malicious misrepresentation of someone's words or actions. We are well acquainted with our politician’s propensity to utter defamatory and derogatory remarks in public. How they get away with it is a topic for another day. What you should be aware of is that those defamatory comments you “anonymously” post on a forum or blog can be traced back to you. The Internet Service Provider (ISPs) have a role in this process.

With an application to the courts an ISP can be made to reveal someone’s IP (Internet Protocol) address. The ISPs usually absolve themselves from any blame by asserting that they provide a means of transmitting communications without in any way participating in them. This means they are mere conduits like the old postal company that delivers letters and packages. ISPs are therefore not liable for transmitting or temporarily storing defamatory comments.

They are however liable to some extent. When informed of the existence of these defamatory remarks an ISP is obligated to remove the content. If the ISP refuses to remove these comments then it can be regarded as a publisher and can subsequently be sued for knowingly storing and transmitting defamatory remarks.

As an online discussion forum participant you need to know two simple essentials. Your “anonymous” diatribes can be traced back to you through your IP. Many inflammatory comments are however made in public cyber cafes. This however does not fully protect the author of the same from been identified.

The second essential is that if you become an online victim of insults or defamatory remarks you can request an ISP to remove them. If the ISP refuses it becomes a publisher and legal action can be initiated against it.

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