An "open" social media account can be viewed by anybody. I understand that the laws of the UK and other countries too extend to social media and users of such platforms can be prosecuted for posts which are defamatory or harmful in some way.

But what about comments made on posts by other users? If I were to post a perfectly acceptable photo on an open Instagram account, for example, and someone else using their own account added a comment to my original post which contained something defamatory or otherwise litigious against another party (not myself), can I, as the owner of the original post, be held accountable for that? If the police were to investigate the source of the comment, could they force me to delete a comment made by someone else from their own account but is attached to my original post?

I appreciate you might ask why would you not want to delete a defamatory comment from your post? Well, sometimes we may support the reason behind something but not the actual action taken. For example, thousands of people might be willing to sign a petition against something, but only a small subset of those might be willing to actively protest against it, and when a protest crosses the line between acceptable protest and illegal protest some might tacitly support what an individual or group did even though they would not do it themselves. Likewise, if somebody made a comment that I agree with in principle but would not have said myself, I would feel hypocritical deleting it, but I do not want to risk prosecution myself and so am interested to know where a person would stand in such a situation.

1 Answer 1



In theory at least.

Libel attaches to any publisher of the libellous statement and anyone who publishes an endorsement of that statement. So, for example, a person who retweets a libellous statement liable and there is case law to support this. Of course, if you republish without endorsement (e.g. "Look at the BS X said: ...") then you are not liable.

In theory, this would extend to allowing a libellous statement to remain on a platform under your control once you were aware of it.

  • That is interesting and certainly sounds reasonable. For clarification, who do you deem as "the publisher" in my scenario - given that SoMe users can "publish" their comments in a publically visible place without the approval of the owner's account? Also, if it was a comment that just sat there, without any "like" or response from the owning account to show approval or to acknowledge that the comment has been read and seen by the owning account, would that remove liability (or prevent anyone from proving that they have liability)?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 10:02
  • @Astralbee if it has been read by the owner (which is recorded) that’s possibly enough. There is case law that says if you’ve seen legal documents on Facebook you’ve been served.
    – Dale M
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 11:24

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