Internet defamation

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Internet defamation

Postby frank-the-weinerdog » Fri Dec 13, 2002 3:19 am

Not so much a debate as a discussion, I have read every single thing I can find on the web that relates to internet defamation, and the majority vote seems to be in favor of the first amendment right of freedom of speach.

I would like to encourage a discussion on the topic, and maybe see a few of you students incorparate it into your studies.

Defamation is defamation, an intentional act or expression to inflict emotional or physical harm upon a person, corporation, copyright, or idea.

The internet has yet to settle on a definitive line to cross, yet there are cases here, and abroad which have awarded damages to those on the recieving end of maliscious, unfounded OR factual attacks.

Uhh, waddaya think?
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Postby Nyufrost » Sun Dec 15, 2002 3:37 am

I agree that online defamation is something that should be taken more seriously. However, most people who do that sort of thing are safe and secure hiding behind their androgenous screen names, falsified profiles and even proxy servers.

I think it takes a major coward to do this but, all the same, it's done all the time. I personally have been a victim of it twice online.

Once, as you know, with the Ravenettes and all their lies. They convinced almost everyone I knew online at that point that I was making threatening phone calls to them. Amazing since none of them even used their real names or locations when posting. Yet, the average person doesn't stop to think of "little" details like that and they are happier believing the worst. You can't convince them with charts, graphics and videotapes once they set their minds to think a certain way.

The reason Steve stopped participating was once they found out and disclosed real life personal information about him, he was afraid they would hurt his business and family with their slanderous and defaming comments.

There are so many people online who act this way that it's downright scary. I just wonder what personality type it takes to make up venomous lies about people and spread them just to cause another person trouble.
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Postby frank-the-weinerdog » Sun Dec 15, 2002 4:06 am

Good points!...

There are several suits pending in both foreign and domestic courts, and a few which have been settled for large amounts of money.

In the event as you described, I am concerned with board owners, who, are considered "publishers" much like news papers and television, who have been successfully sued. The board moderator, or even the owner of the servers which present publications of a slanderous and harmfull nature are also considered "publishers" and have control over the material that is posted.
ISP's have battled and won many appeals that they in fact are NOT publishers of harmfull material, and cannot rightfully monitor all the information that passes through thier equipment...its not humanly possible.
BUT, when a board owner, or website owner etc acts as a publisher, often participating, or being notified of maliscous defamatory material, they are perfectly capable of preventing the circulation of such material in many ways, including banning IP's of masked (anon or fictitious participants)

As far as the person making the posts meant to defame, I think its irrelevant to the fact that website owners, board owners etc enable an anon poster, allow the BS to be posted, and continue being posted, and often participate or comment on the material. I think these people should be perfectly accountable. I think that if a board operator, or website owner operator should be liable for any damages incurred by those defamed, slandered, and intentionally harmed in any way form website posts, email circulations etc etc which fall within the guidelines of this countries "hate" laws, defamation, and slander laws.

I think our gov needs to participate far more in the happenings of internet communication and publication. Thos I want to stay on topic with defamation, theres so much illegal shit going through the web, from child porn..to pornography in general being available to children.

I honestly think there is no reason why the internet shouldnt require a "possitive identification" requirement to even use it. Sure, nicknames and aliases could and should be permitted, but never in a way that makes it extremely difficult or impossible to identify criminals by law enforcement.

(This of course is a very debateble issue, and I am all for a debate, maybe I will start another thread. But for this one, internet defamation and accountability should remain the topic.)
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Postby Nyufrost » Sun Dec 15, 2002 7:31 am

I'm going to have to disagree.

I tried to explain this elsewhere and no one seemed to get it. Let me try again.

Journalism is a learned profession. Just because someone has a knack for writing does not make them a professional journalist. Just like because someone knows how to use a computer doesn't mean they can program one.

Just trust me and follow along on this ... Journalism was, after all, my college major. Writing is a skill like musical ability. Either you've got it or you don't. Taking four years of violin lessons is not going to make me a concert violinist because I don't have the needed special aptitude for it. Likewise, with Journalism, there is a special aptitude. In the four years one studies the subject, they do not learn so much *how* to write but how to write in a potically correct and nonslanted way.

The very first book a Journalism student is required to purchase is the AP Stylebook and Libel Handbook. It's a Journalist's bible. All professional journalists use it and write in the same manner. A first year student learns the definitions of libel, slander and defamation and how NOT to use them. You learn to write without perspective as not to offend anyone.

Example of perspective
"JoeBob was confined to a wheelchair" indicates a reporter's bias
"JoeBob used a wheelchair" is straight, nonperspective reporting

These are first-year lessons.

The chances of a professional journalist defaming someone is slim to none. However, he may quote a source who makes a bogus claim that defames someone. Of course, it would not be known to be bogus and defamatory until someone complained. At that time, a publisher will normally print a retraction and an apology.

Publishing is a business with set rules and restrictions and employees who know the the rules and ethics of their profession.

A message board owner has no formal training in this direction. For the most part, the people who post on the boards have no formal education in media or law and no interest in not being offensive. Another consideration: many board owners and posters are under 18.

Therefore, to liken a message board owner to a publisher is ludicrous.

However, if it was a rule that everyone on the internet had to purchase and abide by the rules of the AP Handbook then yes, the board owners should be accountable. Until then, I believe people should be responsible for their own words and actions.
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Postby frank-the-weinerdog » Sun Dec 15, 2002 8:40 pm

I dont think it takes a lick of training to go into a message board and fabricate stories about a person. To create a fictitious account of thier character with the intention of defaming, harming the persons reputation or simply attempting to cause the person or business harm. I dont need one day of school to be an "author" so to speak...
And I think if anyone calls themself a journalist, dont they have to be getting paid and published to actually BE a jornalist? Hell I can go to colledge and become a pharmacist, but if I am not employed as one...can I call myslef one?

I somehow get the impression from you nyu that in order to be held acountable for damaging comments or intentional slanderous material, a person first has to know how to avoid writing it in that way.

You are in fact considered a "publisher" in this very board!
You provide the means and ways to deliver the information to anyone in the world to read. If in fact the material infringes upon any law in the state it was either written OR recieved, beieve it or not, both the author and the publisher can be held accountable, but because there is so much of it out there, and it is very hard to enforce, you dont hear of too many lawsuits out there adressing the issue.

Say I decide to write a story about Bob Smith. I claim that Bob was a school techer at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Washington DC and I elaborate on how Bob is a pedophile, and a child molester. I watched Bob touch someone in an inappropriate place.

Now theres three things wrong here, the first is , if the story is true, it is MY responsibility to report it to law enforcement, and let them investigate the validity and Bob would be subject to the laws surrounding the accusation. For me to Post and publish the story on the internet can be considered slandrerous, and defamatory.

If the story were true, and Bob DID answer to charges and was found not guilty my "published" story is defamatory, and it can be assumed that my intent was to cause or have caused physical or emotional harm to Bob, which is Illegal.

I think its obvious that if I knowingly post a fictitious story about Bob, in a manner meant to harm bring harm upon him either emotionally or physically (like trying to get him fired from his current job) this is slanderous, and defamatory.

Theres is ONE way that MAY, not always, but may protect me form being accused of slander...to incorporate the words "I believe" or I suspect" or "its my oppinion"
At that point, First amendment rights of free speech can easily be used as a defense. BUT "the first amendment is NOT a shield" (us supreme court justice adressed a defendant with these words) when the intent is to bring harm upon a person or business in one of many mentioned ways.

Now in all cases, YOU being the controlling factor of this information being distributed to the world via the web through this board, you are THE publisher! Theres no two ways about it! You have provided a means to distribute, and knowingly allowed the material to be circulated to the furthest reaches of the world wide web. In some cases, your own judgement can not be deemed appropriate or knowledgable of the law, BUT, not knowing the law does not mean you cannot be held accountable for breaking it. If in fact a request is made to remove the material in question, it is not your responsibility to know the law, but it IS your responsibility to uphold it.

"The Defamation Act 1996 clarified and simplified the law and provided that such a distributor would not be liable in defamation unless and until they came into a position where they knew, or should have known, that material passing through the system and being disseminated by them, it is defamatory. The corollary is that once they do become aware of the true situation, they then have a choice either to continue to publish the document, or distribute it, or if they choose otherwise, they avoid liability by ceasing the distribution."


I think this clearly spells out that Bulletin board owners/operators can be held accountable for the material on thier board.











DEFINITIONS:


What is defamation?

A statement that harms the reputation of someone else. Courts have to balance the reputation of one person with the free speech rights of the other. Statements have to be repeated to at least one third person and must have caused damage.


There are two forms of defamation: libel and slander.


Libel involves the publishing of a falsehood that harms someone.


Slander is the same doctrine applied to the spoken word. Collectively, they are referred to as defamation. Both fall under the jurisdiction of individual states, which usually require the falsehood to be intentional.



Definition of libel in California:

"A libel is a defamation expressed in written or other graphic form that tends to blacken the memory of the dead or that tends to injure a living person's reputation and thereby expose the person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach any person's honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation." (California Statues, Sec. 73.001, 1995)


I think the definition of defamation is clear. but it poses questions of jurisdiction for accountability. In the case of internet defamation, if said defamatory statements can reach California from anywhere in the world, it is a crime, and punishable by California law.

Again, formal training seems redundant, do you have to be formally trained to shoot someone in order to be held accountable for the injury? no.

I think those who do write slanderous defamatory material and decide to post it to the internet, do so with the intent to "harm" by discrediting reputation, cause hate or unfavor, or an effort to cause or have caused financial, emotional or physical harm to a person or business.

My story of Bob Smith is untrue, and has no words of an expresses oppinion.
and is therefore Slanderous, and defamatory.
The fact that you are sitting there rerading it is cause for Bob to sue me , because it reached a third person (I'm sure you've developed a negative feeling for bob wich may be defined as hate)

But because you have the control to edit, or delete the story, or otherwise leave it posted (PUBLISH) you can be held accountable for the defamation if in fact it causes any harm to Bob.

If one person decides to keep thier child out of the school which Bob works, based on the fictitious story I "authored" and you "published" (as fact).the school can sue myself, AND you!
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Postby Nyufrost » Sun Dec 15, 2002 10:46 pm

You don't seem to get my point.

I didn't say one needed training to be able to write in a slanderous, libelous or defamatory way. :roll:

I said to compare an internet message board owner with a publisher and hold them equally accountable is ludicrous.

A 14 year old might post on a message board that his friend "JoeBob Smith is gay and wears girls' underwear" ...sure, that's defamation of character if JoeBob is straight and doesn't wear girls' underwear. Let's further assume this 14 year old is really 21 and is pretending to be 14. How is the board owner supposed to know this? How is the board owner supposed to know if JoeBob is offended or thinks its a funny joke when he retaliates with an equally defamatory remark about his friend?

If a reporter wrote something defamatory about you and you reacted by sending a letter to the editor of a rival paper calling the reporter an incompetent idiot, I think you just lost your defamation case. However, if you had your lawyer send a serious letter to the publisher that you found the reporter's article defamatory and offered proof that the story was incorrect, then you would get your retraction.

However, anyone can *claim* they were defamed even if they weren't to try and cause trouble or get some money out of a frivolous lawsuit. This is why you need proof of the defamation and most papers will refuse to back down on the story until you provide it.

So, the same would hold true on a message board.

Let's take the little insult war going on between Joni and Stephanie on my board. Each one is calling the other one names and trying to make the other look bad by "revealing" secret real-life facts about the other one. They both claim to be insulted; they both reply to each other with more insults; then they make comments to make it all seem like a joke. So, as a board owner, how am I to know if they are truly defaming one another? Perhaps they are the same person posting just to entertain the crowd. How do I know they are not? How do I even know who they are in real life? So someone posts and claims to be Mrs. JAJ ... how do I know this? I DON'T.

This common internet occurance is known as a flame war. If you DID write a snide letter to the editor of a rival paper about a reporter you don't like, he is not going to retaliate by writing another article about you and back and forth the way it goes on a message board.

Another thing ... as I said ... to win a defamation case you have to prove their was defamation. So, let's take the incident where the Ravenettes claimed I made threatening phone calls to them. Sure, in a court of law, phone records could have been subpoenaed and it would have been an easy victory for me. But, whose records should my lawyer subpoenae? Yes, I would like to file suit against "Raven et. al" please. Right. :roll:

I am sure you are aware than most people online don't even use their real names. So, your plan would punish only those who do. JoeBob Smith can sign up for a message board using a fake name, fake address, fake telephone number and anonymous email account also created using fake information. A publisher can't run a business this way.

The publishing industry and the internet are two entirely different entities and such be treated as such.
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Postby frank-the-weinerdog » Mon Dec 16, 2002 12:52 am

quote="Nyufrost"]I said to compare an internet message board owner with a publisher and hold them equally accountable is ludicrous.[/quote]

How can it be ludicrous? YOU are the publisher of the material in question, there's no comparison to be made, you are BOTH the board owner AND publisher.

A 14 year old might post on a message board that his friend "JoeBob Smith is gay and wears girls' underwear" ...sure, that's defamation of character if JoeBob is straight and doesn't wear girls' underwear. Let's further assume this 14 year old is really 21 and is pretending to be 14. How is the board owner supposed to know this? How is the board owner supposed to know if JoeBob is offended or thinks its a funny joke when he retaliates with an equally defamatory remark about his friend?


Defamation is defamation, if joebob isn't offended or harmed in anyway by the statement being made which would have to be untrue, its not defamation! but if the statement is NOT true, and joebob is emotionally or physically harmed by such statement...it IS defaming, plain and simple.

I don't think its a case of what is and what isn't defamation, my argument is that if it IS, both the author, and the publisher, in this case the board owner can and should be held accountable by all means outlined by the law!

If a reporter wrote something defamatory about you and you reacted by sending a letter to the editor of a rival paper calling the reporter an incompetent idiot, I think you just lost your defamation case. However, if you had your lawyer send a serious letter to the publisher that you found the reporter's article defamatory and offered proof that the story was incorrect, then you would get your retraction.


I cant disagree, but I do question the relevance of the comparison. WHY would the publisher retract the statements? uhh, because they bring the story to public yes? How are you any different as a board owner? YOU bring the story to the world via this board. YOU are a publisher.

However, anyone can *claim* they were defamed even if they weren't to try and cause trouble or get some money out of a frivolous lawsuit. This is why you need proof of the defamation and most papers will refuse to back down on the story until you provide it.

So, the same would hold true on a message board.


Uhh, newspapers WILL often print a retraction for one reason and one reason only..TO AVOID THE TROUBLE OF A LAWSUIT without so much as lifting a finger to prove or disprove the fact or fiction of what might be a slanderous remark. But if a person writes to a message board owner, and simply states that the post is not true, and THEY believe it is meant to harm, I think as a board owner, I would be insane to request proof of anything other than the person making the (defaming) post!
Why on earth would it have to be MY responsibility to prove I am not a racist if someone posts as fact that I am?

As far as Jonis argument, if one of them were to TELL you that comments are untrue, and are threatening their credibility, or otherwise causing harm, then you WOULD know, and I feel you would be obligated to have the other either prove the statements are true...OR DELETE THEM.



Another thing ... as I said ... to win a defamation case you have to prove their was defamation. So, let's take the incident where the Ravenettes claimed I made threatening phone calls to them. Sure, in a court of law, phone records could have been subpoenaed and it would have been an easy victory for me. But, whose records should my lawyer subpoena? Yes, I would like to file suit against "Raven et. al" please. Right. :roll:


Uhh...this is a little far fetched, why would your attorney subpoena phone records if defamation hadn't already been suspected? It is not entirely impossible to trace the identity of an individual, if it were a case that you felt strongly about pursuing, the first thing your lawyer would do is to find the true identity of "raven" proxies are not fool proof, they are tough, but not fool proof....Raven clearly posted a lie to defame, to negatively effect your credibility etc etc. I think if you had written that the statements where not true, that is ALL that is needed to establish the likelihood of the comments being defamatory, and then it is up to HER to prove they are true, NOT you to prove they are not. Your lawyer could easily request that the statements either be backed by fact, or removed...if neither were to happen, than of course a lawsuit would be the next step. If Ravens true identity is not found, the publisher/board owner is and should be accountable for the damages, especially if you simply request the posts be removed because they are not true. Is it your responsibility to prove anything at this point?

I am sure you are aware than most people online don't even use their real names. So, your plan would punish only those who do. JoeBob Smith can sign up for a message board using a fake name, fake address, fake telephone number and anonymous email account also created using fake information. A publisher can't run a business this way.
A publisher has no obligation to provide space for comments from anonymous persons! Of course the vast majority of people use aliases, and many of them do it for one reason, to NOT be held accountable for their comments or actions! I think if a board owner allows this, they assume responsibility for the content of their board if it causes damage.

here's another point, I think any and all boards, news groups etc should incorporate a policy which seems to be one of common sense we all use anyway.

If your posting anonymously, you have still broken a law if you say you are going to kill someone, or you are planning to rob a bank.

I really think that posts made anonymously in this nature, as well as derogatory or suspected defaming comments should never be ALLOWED to be posted by anonymous authors...there's no credibility behind them, and anon has no obligation whatsoever to answer to allegations of criminal behavior, so why would anyone want to read it?

The publishing industry and the internet are two entirely different entities and such be treated as such.


I strongly disagree, the internet and the publishing industry are one in the same, this comment will be "published" as soon as I hit submit, and will be available for the world to read. I think many many people write threatening slanderous defaming disgusting CRAP because they are well aware of how many people may read it, and to have no accountability for what they write is what I think should be considered a waiver of the constitutional right to free speech! If you expect to be afforded the RIGHT to speak freely, I think the first thing you should do is show that you are qualified to HAVE that right by telling me who you are, and accepting responsibility for what you say.
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Postby Nyufrost » Mon Dec 16, 2002 2:06 am

What about someone who poses as an ezBoard employee and uses a fake identity to attempt to cause trouble and make anonymous defaming remarks about another person which are then wrongly attributed to yet another person causing them emotional stress and embarassment?

Should the board owner turn that person in to the ezBoard legal department for prosecution? :roll:

A harmless prank, eh? ;)

You seem to be overlooking the age issue. Most publishers are not 14 year olds. Or even 18 year olds or 25 year olds. However, many board owners are under legal age. How and why should a kid --who is possibly not able to comprehend or interpret such legal mumbo jumbo-- bear any responsibility for what some venomous adults get online and post back and forth at one another??? Or, should we now drag the 12 year old board owner's parents into the picture and sue them also because they didn't make a bigger effort to regulate little JoeBob's board? Or, what about board owners in other countries? Are they exempt? Why shouldn't they be since they don't follow US law?

So, we have all the foreign board owners and underage board owners getting away with something that only a select few can be prosecuted for?

Bah! I say people should be legally accountable for what they write and not try to pass the buck. If JoeBob can't be responsible for what he writes, then why should I be?
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