It’s been an interesting few days for arguing the limits of online press freedom.
The European Court of Human Rights said in its ruling on Delfi AS v. Estonia that websites must keep tabs on their comments sections too.
News sites, it appears, and more than just passive conduits and are responsible for both welcome comment and the abusive froth that sometimes accumulates beneath some posts.
The argument has gone a step further however. Tech website The Verge reports that the owner/operator of website Best Gore, a site famed for its visceral content, has been charged after helping to disseminate a video of a real murder, horrifically entitled 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick.
The site’s owner, Mark Marek, is to go on trial in Canada. He claims merely to have been passing on the information, and that only by people showing the crime online was the killer brought to justice.
This raises an interesting question: is there any difference between a site like Best Gore showing murder footage and conventional media outlets showing images of war or gruesome gang killings in Mexico? Papers in other countries have stronger stomachs for disturbing images than our own.
Do the limits of the public interest argument stop suddenly at the doors of traditional news outlets?
If sites are liable for the nature of the content they or users post, this could be seen as damaging to freedom of expression. And what if a site doesn’t post a snuff clip but instead links to it, could it too be on dubious moral ground?