In Rolf Anders Daniel Pihl v Sweden, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) agreed with Swedish authorities that a non-profit association was not liable for anonymous defamatory comments posted on its blog. The ECHR held that the Swedish authorities’ refusal to hold the owner of the blog liable for the anonymous defamatory online comment did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention).
The applicant was the subject of a defamatory online comment, which had been published anonymously on a blog. The blog accused the applicant of being involved in a Nazi party. An anonymous person posted a comment stating, “that guy pihl is also a real hash-junkie according to several people I have spoken to”. Nine days later and following a complaint by the applicant, the small non-profit association that ran the blog removed the blog post and comment, and an apology was published. The applicant then made a civil claim against the association, claiming that it should be held liable for the third party’s comment. The Swedish courts and the Chancellor of Justice rejected the claim. The applicant complained to the ECHR that the State had violated his right to respect for his private life (contrary to Article 8 of the Convention), by failing to hold the association responsible for the defamatory comment against him.
The ECHR ruled that the State had not violated Article 8 of the Convention. Referring its earlier decision in Delfi AS v. Estonia. the ECHR held that a balance must be struck between an individual’s right to respect for his private life, and the right to freedom of expression (under Article 10) enjoyed by an individual or group running an internet portal. The ECHR found that in the circumstances of the present case, the national authorities had struck a fair balance between the competing Article 8 and Article 10 rights.
In carrying out the balancing exercise between these competing rights, the ECHR took into account the following factors: although the comment had been defamatory, it did not amount to hate speech or incitement to violence; it was posted on a small blog run by a non-profit association, unknown to the wider public and its readership was therefore likely to be limited; the association had stated clearly on its blog that it did not monitor content before publication, and had taken the post and comment down within one day of notification and published an apology. The ECHR also observed that the applicant had taken only limited steps to try to identify the author of the comment, and that the effect of holding the association liable would have been particularly chilling because its website was non-commercial. Therefore the ECHR held that the application was manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected.