Defamation suit outcome could impact, Google, Facebook, other social media

| May 1, 2014

As the privacy debate reaching a new pitch in the context of Donald Sterling’s private remarks to a friend becoming his public undoing, the larger question of how social media has affected the private of everyday citizens certainly is going to come to a head some day. We’re not certain this case is the real test but we’re wondering what will happen when someone sues Facebook or some other social media outlet for allowing someone to transmit libelous or slanderous information about them across their site.

Social media proponents might argue that the site should not be responsible for what others say but their is legal precedent for holding them responsible for the words of people who use the sites. For example, in the news industry, it long has been established that a media outlet can be held legally responsible for printing or repeating a libelous or slanderous statement by someone with whom they are talking. We know for certain, because we’ve been on the wrong end of such an action during a contentious battle between two local political figures. Actually, the complainant in the action declined to name us as a courtesy in that his beef really wasn’t with us but with the political party official who made the statement. Still, transmitting the statements of others can lead to legal action.

Given some of the trash talking, back biting and rude things we’ve seen on Facebook, it’s only a matter of time before someone takes an offender and the site to court. By the same token, we’ve seen folks divulge sensitive and typically private information about others—including their own family members. Again, it’s only a matter of time before someone sues.

Yes, there is a such thing as free speech—but there’s also a right to privacy and fair treatment. It will be interesting to see the outcome as these concepts clash on social media.

Meanwhile, we caution you to:

1. Refrain from making incendiary comments about others on social media that could land you in court;

2. Stop posting so much of your personal business online. It could come back to haunt you with employers and even law enforcement—and you can’t argue privacy too well when you deliberately posted it in cyberspace for others to see.

3. Spend more time talking to people directly and less on social media sites and text messages. There is a spiritual quality to the vibration of the voice that transmits more than just the printed word. At lest change up your communications. Do something special like make a call, write a real letter or make a visit.

Google, Facebook watch outcome of defamation suit targeting Arizona gossip site

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is considering whether owner of thedirty.com defamed a former Bengals cheerleader, Sarah Jones.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PATRICK REDDY/AP

The former cheerleader, Sarah Jones, sued Nik Richie, owner of TheDirty.com, in 2012 and won the suit, but now the case is being appealed.The former cheerleader, Sarah Jones, sued Nik Richie, owner of TheDirty.com, in 2012 and won the suit, but now the case is being appealed.

PATRICK REDDY/AP

The owner of TheDirty.com, Nik Richie, left, was sued by Sarah Jones, a former cheerleader with the Cincinnati Bengals.The owner of TheDirty.com, Nik Richie, left, was sued by Sarah Jones, a former cheerleader with the Cincinnati Bengals.

CINCINNATI — An appeals court is considering whether an Arizona-based gossip website should have been allowed to be sued for defamation by a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader convicted of having sex with a teenager.

Attorneys for both sides argued their case Thursday before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The court could rule any time.

Internet giants including Google and Facebook are watching the case to see how it may affect their immunity from many types of lawsuits under a federal Internet law passed in 1996.

In 2012, former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones sued Nik Richie, the owner of thedirty.com, over posts about her sex life. In July, a jury found that Richie had acted with malice or reckless disregard, and Jones was awarded $338,000.

via Google, Facebook watch outcome of defamation suit targeting Arizona gossip site – NY Daily News.

Category: Crime & Safety, Local, National

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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