Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whig Standard On On-Line Libel

A nice editorial, based on the FreeD appeal of the Warman ruling:

Online forums play a different role in hosting public comment, but they must share the responsibility to determine what is fair comment. It's one thing to facilitate a discussion online, but it is another when that online conversation is based on falsehoods.

Individuals and groups deserve protection from potentially hurtful and damaging comments. That is why there are libel and slander laws to provide a permanent layer of legal protection.

Online forums, just like mainstream media, have an obligation to ensure that individuals post comments that are in good taste and stay within the legal guidelines.

One of those things that really shouldn't have to be said.

By the way, has anyone else experienced the following: defamatory remarks appear anonymously in the comments section, and almost immediately their target (or the target's lawyer) arrives bearing a legal threat, raising the suspicion that the target might have posted the remark themselves.

A local politician once emailed me claiming that he suspected the Tory machine was doing this to him: posting defamatory remarks about a local Tory in on-line forums sympathetic to the politician, and then threatening the forum with libel.

I've had the same kind of material posted in my comments concerning a number of the folks I've written about (including an accusation of murder), but was able to removed them before any lawyers showed up.

Is there a name for this kind of trick?


Mark Francis said...

"Is there a name for this kind of trick?"

Attempt fraud?

Malicious prosecution?

Having someone plant libel in your comments and then tort for it is the ultimate SLAPP. If discovered, I'm not sure there is a specific tort or criminal charge which applies, unless someone has lied under oath.

It may be time to extend the Malicious Prosecution tort to include suing for malicious torts.

As for the top of your post dealing with libel online, I still argue that anonymous trolls ranting defamatory content cause little to no damage themselves. I mean, look at the veracity of the source!

It's the people with more credibility (if even a little more) who pick up the defamatory content and spread it who cause the problem.

Demosthenes said...

How about "utterly predictable"?

If you try to hold people personally responsible for every comment made on their blog, these sorts of dirty tricks will become omnipresent and unstoppable. Barring forcing people to send in their driver's license to register to the site, you will always be vulnerable to this.

That's why you can't sue AT&T for a nasty phone call, can't sue your ISP for a nasty email, and shouldn't be able to sue a forum owner for a comment.