Ruling may put social media at risk

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A court ruling in Oslo that ordered a Norwegian blogger to remove his posts about the alleged reasons for the break-up of a high-profile celebrity couple seems to have broken new legal ground. Media and legal experts think it may put active social media users at risk for getting sued themselves.

An Oslo city court (byfogden i Oslo) granted an urgent request filed by lawyers for singer Tone Damli Aaberge that blogger Christian Burmeister remove what he’d written last week about Aaberge’s much-reported break-up with actor Aksel Hennie. Burmeister already had gone along with what he called self-censorship of his posts by replacing names and reportedly intimate details of the break-up with the name of Aaberge’s high-profile attorney John Christian Elden. That didn’t please either Aaberge or Elden, leading to the filing just before the weekend for an immediate injunction against Burmeister’s blogging, viewed by Aaberge as libelous and an invasion of her privacy.

The court agreed, ordering Burmeister on Monday to immediately remove his posts about Aaberge and Hennie including those he’d censored himself. He was also ordered to pay NOK 14,150 in court costs, although the amount was reduced from an original claim of more than NOK 50,000.

Linking responsibility
Moreover, the court ordered removal of all links to Burmeister’s blogging about Aaberge and Hennie and all references to it. That’s what’s raising questions among legal and media experts, because the ruling may not only challenge a blogger’s own content but put others at risk for spreading it. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Tuesday that nearly 180,000 persons had visited Burmeister’s blog on the day his allegedly libellous post about Aaberge and Hennie appeared, and his blog’s content was shared via links on other forms of social media.

Lawyers for Aaberge, who earlier has willingly placed herself in the media spotlight, told DN they won’t rule out suing others who have shared Burmeister’s content that was ordered blocked by the Oslo court. Anyone who repeats information on their own blog or via other social media may be considered an accomplice, media lawyer Jon Wessel-Aas told DN, because they would be responsible for publishing libelous material as well.

Another lawyer, Vidar Strømme, agreed, saying anyone who spread the blog content that was ordered removed can “in principle” be responsible. No attorneys DN contacted have seen such a case in Norwegian courts before, but Monday’s ruling can set new precedent or at least test the limits of how content can be spread on the Internet.

Per Edgar Kokkvold, secretary general of the Norwegian press association Norske Presseforbund, thinks the legal reaction to a blogger’s content may set off other efforts to halt the rapid spread of rumours on social media. He called it an ethical challenge, noting the law is unclear.

Burmeister, meanwhile, is calling for donations to help him pay court costs and file a complaint with Norway’s bar association.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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