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Court rules nasty comments are a news site's responsibility

After threatening comments are made on a popular Estonian news site's article, a European court decides the site has to deal with the consequences.

Those nasty, abusive comments left on news articles aren't the responsibility of the news site...or are they?

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Wednesday that DelfiSA, a popular Estonian news site, is responsible for a slew of threatening and offensive comments left in response to one of its stories, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The article that so enraged readers was published in January 2006 and was about a ferry company changing its route, which delayed the opening of roads to offshore islands, according to the Journal. Within the roughly 185 comments posted, around 20 threatened the ferry company's majority shareholder.

Unhappy that DelfiSA allowed these commenters to have a public forum for their threats, the ferry company sued in a local court and won. DelfiSA appealed within the Estonian courts and lost, and so the news site brought the case to the ECHR. But to no avail; the European court also agreed with the ferry company and the Estonian courts.

"The applicant company [Delfi], by publishing the article in question, could have realized that it might cause negative reactions against the shipping company and its managers and that, considering the general reputation of comments on the Delfi news portal, 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," the ECHR ruling read, according to the Journal.

While the ECHR has made its ruling, it's likely that it won't impact news sites in other countries, according to the Journal. The decision was made based on the human rights of those negatively affected by the comments in the DelfiSA article, not for precedent in international law.

It's unclear how much DelfiSA will now have to pay for losing the case, or if it will be required to take action to prevent threatening comments in the future.

Many news sites in the US have comment moderators to make sure nothing threatening or illegal is posted. And some companies have also taken to comment management. Last month, YouTube, which is notorious for cruel comments, began to roll out enhanced moderation tools to let uploaders manage comments on their videos.