Policies Around Customer Communities Should Be Flexible

Lora Bentley

We have covered the risks associated with corporate blogging from just about every angle, I think. We've talked about employees making unauthorized statements in "Have You Reviewed Your Policies Lately?" We've talked about disgruntled former employees making unauthorized disclosures in their personal blogs or, if their access to the network is not quickly terminated, even in corporate blogs. But what about the risk posed when your company allows the public to comment on corporate blogs?


Goodwin Procter partner David Goldstone says clients are increasingly asking that question as they embrace the concept of community as a means of reaching out to customers. In a conversation last week, he told me companies want to create a Web 2.0 experience for their customers and allow them to comment on corporate blogs. However, Goldstone says they are also wondering whether doing so opens a Pandora's Box of liability.


Specifically, companies want to know, "What if someone makes disparaging remarks about our competitor in a comment on our blogs? Can the competitor turn around and sue us?" Generally, the answer is no.


Goldstone explains:

The law says that the provider of an interactive computer service can't be treated as a publisher of information provided by another. And that has been tested extensively in the courts.


That does not mean the company can give its customers the ability to comment and then think nothing else about it. Goldstone says the company must make sure it has a clear policy as to what is acceptable in a comment, what is not and that the policy is made known to those participating in the community. He cautions, however, that the policy should give the company plenty of flexibility:

You don't want a policy that says, "Put up any comments you want, but we reserve the right to take down any comments that have foul language in them." What if someone puts up a comment that doesn't have foul language in it, but it's offensive in other ways? You don't want to create a situation where you have over promised.

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