Dr. Ewart Brown was the subject of a controversial posting on the Limey in Bermuda website. File photo
Dr. Ewart Brown was the subject of a controversial posting on the Limey in Bermuda website. File photo
TV reporter Gary Moreno says he's looking at his options after someone was able to post a potentially damaging comment about Ewart Brown on a popular Internet forum using his name.

The comments appeared on the website Limey in Bermuda on Friday. Site owner Phil Wells says he removed Mr. Moreno's name from the comment after establishing it was fake later in the day.

The matter raises interesting questions about how Mr. Wells polices his site as well as the broader legal issues of Internet blogging, which is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the U.S. with more than 50 lawsuits filed in the past several years.

Mr. Moreno says he did not post the comment on the site. He told us: "I categorically deny that I had anything to do with that posting and I'm looking at my options."

We were unable to contact Dr. Brown yesterday.

We asked Mr. Wells if he takes full responsibility for what is posted on his site. He told us: "I take full responsibility for all content that I post on the site, but not for the content of comments left by other people. However, I police the site to ensure that all comments are appropriate and on topic."

Asked about how he became aware of the potentially damaging posting about Dr. Brown signed by 'Gary Moreno', and what he did about it, Mr. Wells said: "I first became aware of the comment around 5.30pm on Friday, approximately 20 minutes after it appeared on the site.

"I became suspicious that the author really was not Gary Moreno. When I got home, I sent an e-mail to the address provided by the commenter, which looked like it could be a valid address. When that bounced back, I took it as confirmation that he was not the author and removed his name from the comment.

"The following day I was able to locate Mr. Moreno's real e-mail address, and I sent him an e-mail to let him know what had happened and the action I had taken."

Limey in Bermuda claims to attract up to 100,000 page views a month. It was originally designed three years ago to chronicle Mr. Wells's new life in Bermuda.

Asked what he intends to do to prevent people from posting whatever they like about other people in the future, he said the issue is "under review."

He also said: "From now on, any comments that I even suspect were not posted by the person claiming to have written them will be immediately removed from the site."

Right now, it seems there is no universal agreement about who should be held responsible for potentially libellous postings on websites, the site provider or the person making the comments.

Atlanta attorney Myles Eastwood, speaking in the Long Island Business News said: "I don't think there should be a difference between a newspaper, a television or radio station, a magazine or the Internet. If somebody just decides he's going to say something that completely tears down someone else's reputation, he has to be accountable."

Earlier this month we wrote about a lawsuit against the website DontDateHimGirl.com by a lawyer who said he was libelled on the forum. But the forum's lawyers say the provider is not accountable, comparing the forum to a coffee shop.

"In the real world, we would never hold the owner of a coffee shop or a restaurant or a club liable for the words uttered inside that club by a third party," the lawyer said.

Others say bloggers have to educate themselves about what they can and can't say.

Christine Corcos, the editor of Media Law Prof Blog, told the Long Island Business News: "A lot of people who start blogs have no idea that their comments could be defamatory."

She added: "Bloggers seem to think that defamation rules don't apply, in the same way that some bloggers think copyright laws don't apply. They're wrong."

Back in Bermuda, we asked Mr. Wells how can we believe what is posted on his site is actually posted by the person who claims to have written it.

He replied: "You can't, just as you can't be sure that anything posted on any other online forum or blog [or even in the letters to the editor in the newspaper] is by the person who claims to have written it. That is the nature of the Internet. I daresay the same is true of user comments left on the Sun's website."

However, he added: "I do not condone such behaviour and will deal harshly with anyone I catch indulging in it, including banning them from the site and providing their details to anyone negatively affected by their comment."

What do you think? Should website owners/managers be liable for defamatory comments on their sites? Or should contributors be held responsible? E-mail the editor, Tony McWilliam at: tmcwilliam@bermudasun.bm.