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Comments are a good way for your business to receive customer feedback. Users may also find some worth in interacting with each other, discussing their usage of your products or services. However, if you do allow comments or other user-generated content, you should do your best to regulate this area on your website. You can do this with a comments policy. You can incorporate one into your website terms of use or keep as its own separate document. This article will explain: 

  • what a comments policy is; 
  • when you may need one; and 
  • what legal issues you should know about if you accept user-generated content.

What Is a Comments Policy?

A comments policy is a set of guidelines for your website’s visitors and users. It sets some ground rules for user conduct. If you allow harmful or abusive content in your website’s comments or forums, not only would that reflect poorly on your business, you may face legal repercussions as the host of those comments.

A comments policy will outline exactly what kind of comments or content you do not allow on your website. This may include personal attacks or racist and discriminatory language. You would also detail that you reserve the right to ban users or delete comments that go against your comments policy (or website terms of use), which users agree to when interacting with your site. 

For example, say that you run an online marketplace, and two people get into a heated argument in the comments of a listing. You do not usually have to interfere, but if those comments turn harmful, discriminatory, or abusive, you may lose credibility as a responsible online moderator. 

When Would I Need a Comments Policy?

You may allow users to post comments or their own content on your eCommerce website, whether through forums or in a comments section on product listings. In that case, it would be a good idea to have a comments policy. A comments policy can be a clause in your website terms of use or its own fleshed-out website page. No matter its form, you could cover:

  • prohibited conduct;
  • grounds for account termination;
  • privacy issues;
  • legal disclaimers limiting your liability; and
  • copyright notices.

Users’ Agreement

As with any online agreement of this nature, you need to establish that users have read and agreed to your comments policy or website terms of use. This can be difficult in an online space. Therefore, make sure that users have ample opportunity to read through your comments policy by displaying it prominently. 

You cannot cover everyone that visits your site. However, you can make sure that your comments policy is easy to find. Provide a link to your comments policy (or the larger policy containing it) at the bottom of each page on your website.

If you allow other types of engagement with your website, you may get a more active acceptance.For example, if users need to create an account or link a social media account to post comments, then include a tickbox saying that they agree to abide by the rules set out in your comments policy or website terms of use.

Safe Harbour and Online Comments

The law provides protections for victims of bullying and harassment online, outlining legal avenues for these victims. If someone else posts harmful or harassing content on your website or comment forum, you may be legally responsible for what they say if you do not take appropriate steps.

You can absolve yourself of this responsibility by following the ‘safe harbour’ process, which the Harmful Digital Communications Act outlines. The point of this process is to make sure you are a responsible online content host. This includes being responsive to reports of bullying or harassment and dealing with them promptly. 

This is not mandatory. However, if you follow the safe harbour process, you can protect yourself against liability if someone uses your website comments to post harmful or discriminatory content. You need to:

  • have a clear method of contact for your users;
  • ensure that making a complaint is an accessible and easy process;
  • outline what information a complaint needs (such as a name and contact details); and
  • actively check for complaints of this nature, keeping within time frames.

When you receive a complaint about another user’s content, you need to forward that complaint to the author within 48 hours, taking out any personal information in the complaint. They then have 48 hours to respond to the complaint and provide their counter-arguments. If they do not respond, then remove the offending content within 48 hours.

If the author disagrees with the reasons provided for the take-down notice, you do not have to take down their comments. But, if the content goes against your comments policy or website terms of use, then you can.

Key Takeaways

If users can post comments or their own content on your business’ website, then it may be a good idea to include a comments policy or similar. This would provide some rules on what users can say on your website and limit your legal responsibility if someone posts harmful or harassing content. If you would like more information or help with your business’ comments policy, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand online business lawyers on 0800 005 570, or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a comments policy?

A comments policy is an online set of guidelines that outlines what kinds of comments you prohibit on your website. 

When do I need a comments policy?

It can be a good idea to have a comments policy if you have a commenting function on your website or if you have public forums. You can have a separate policy or incorporate it into your website terms of use.

What goes into a comments policy?

Your comments policy would detail what kinds of comments are prohibited on your site, such as those that use hateful language or break the law. You would also put in any relevant legal disclaimers around copyright and liability.

Am I responsible for what people say on my website?

Generally, you are not responsible for user comments on your website. But, if you do not respond to complaints of someone being bullied or harassed on your site, then you could be potentially liable because you are the website host.

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