Internet sockpuppetry

Recently, our clients often encounter the phenomenon of so called “false debaters” on their websites. What is it about? Such a debater is a person who creates a fake account or blog (under the pseudonym or anynomously) on the website in order to publish posts, the content of which is to promote a product, service or business name, trademark and so on. The aim is to create public interest in a given product or service, in particular to improve the position in search engines, or stimulate the interest of the consumer on the product or service. Sometimes there are more of them acting coordinated and planned, supplying answers to their own questions, giving you advice, sharing their “own” proven experience, and so on.

In legal terms, it is clearly an unfair commercial practice which is prohibited under Section 7 in connection with Section 4 (2) letter c) of Act No. 250/2007 Coll. on Consumer Protection. This prohibition was implemented into Slovak law by the Directive of the European Parliament and Council No. 2005/29/EC concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market.

How shall the website provider proceed in such a case? Pursuant to Section 6 (4) of the E-commerce Act No. 22/2004 Coll., the provider is not responsible for debaters´ posts if unaware of their unlawful content or unlawful debater´s conduct and the provider is not obliged to monitor or search for potentially illegal posts.

Once the website provider becomes aware of the illegality of posts, its obligation is to remove them from the website or at least prevent access to them. Therefore, it is not only entitled, but also required to block such false debaters´ posts or delete them. However it can be problematic to prove their illegality, especially the fact that it is a false paid debater´s profile. In such case, if the provider cannot prove the illegality with certainty, as proven in practice has shown the method of labeling of such posts as “suspicious”.

Please contact us if you are interested in finding out more about this issue. We would be pleased to offer you legal services in this area.

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