Courts Around The World Dealing With The Fact That There Are Mean People Online

from the but-is-it-illegal? dept

Here are two separate lawsuits, halfway around the world from each other that seem to be touching on quite similar issues: whether or not it's illegal to be a jerk online. The first, described by Eric Goldman, is about a student who has sued a bunch of high school classmates, their parents and Facebook, because those students created a private group on Facebook where they made fun of the girl. Goldman points out all the problems with the lawsuit: suing Facebook makes no sense and will get thrown out pretty quickly. The group was private, and limited to six students, so the total "audience" for any defamation was a grand total of five people -- and, while the comments were mean, they were also pretty obviously not true. Also, suing the parents for "negligence" in supervising their kids isn't likely to get very far. All in all, it seems like the case probably won't last very long.

However, the results on the other side of the planet were a bit different. VivekM points us to the news of a teen in India who started an Orkut group against a certain political party. Many people left anonymous comments as a part of the group, but the party sued the teenager who created the group, claiming he violated a local law against "hurting public sentiment." Rather than realizing the the kid starting the group should have no liability for the statements made by others, the Supreme Court in India has said that he can be charged, noting: "You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals. Hence, if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct."

At some point, people and courts will recognize that there will always be jerks online, and it makes little sense to go around filing lawsuits against anyone in any way connected to those being jerky (even the jerky folks themselves), but until that time, the court systems around the world are going to be quite busy with similar cases.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Lucretious, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 4:41am

    huh?

    what the hell is "hurting public sentiment" ??

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 4:53am

    People like the Finkels are morons. Why are these people allowed to breed stupid children?

     

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  3.  
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    Rodney Gagnon, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 4:58am

    Decency is no longer common

    Yes, I believe that suing the creators of these sites/networks is never the answer. Neither is censorship, for that matter. In regards to your first example, I wrote about the means by which to counteract sites that support and financially benefit from such behavior (i.e. Juicy Campus). Bottom line: Cut off their blood supply (Revenue Source) http://www.rodneygagnon.com

     

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  4.  
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    John, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 5:56am

    Another perspective

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 6:03am

    Jerk

     

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  6.  
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    Tgeigs, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 6:17am

    Re: huh?

    I think the Republican Party should sue George W. Bush for "hurting public sentiment"

     

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  7.  
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    Jack Lail, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 6:27am

    Another comments case

    We have an interesting court challenge involving comments going on in Tennessee.

    http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/feb/28/judge-questions-media-intent-web-commentary/

     

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  8.  
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    Weird Harold, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 7:23am

    Here is the key:

    "Hollow and attorney Tom McAdams, who represented WBIR-TV, Channel 10, at the hearing, argued that the judge had no legal right to deny their clients' Internet-based readers their First Amendment right to express themselves."

    While they may not be allowed to deny the individuals their rights to express themselves, those comments in and of themselves are not free from liability. Further, when comments are made that are hateful or which slander someone, the people providing the forum at some point may have to bear some responsibility for those comments. With anonymous comments, there is no way to say that those comments were not written by the news organization itself.

    We cannot anonymously call people out in public to their face, most of the "Anonymous Coward" types would never show their face on TV or admit to their hateful opinions. Without identifying the poster, the subject of this hateful speech has no way to counter those often libelous statements.

    Amazingly, there are actually limits on free speech, most people just don't realize it.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 7:26am

    Please say it ain't so!!!!

    "...there will always be jerks online..."

     

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  10.  
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    A. Jerk, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 8:38am

    I feel as though my freedom is being attack. No, seriously. If I want to leave a less than flattering comment online, it's my god-damned right to do so. Same as if I want to tell someone off in real life, my god-damned right.

    In the fifties, somebody tells somone else off, they took it and manned up. Today? "OH I'll sue you!"

    Has the entirety of society become four year olds needing to hide behind their mothers' skirts?

     

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  11.  
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    DakotaJack (profile), Mar 5th, 2009 @ 9:06am

    less than flattering

    i believe these pppl snuck in along with the politically correct crowd, "wah wah WAH!!!!! i'm gonna go cry till somebody hears me"
    they have no idea the damage they have done till it hit the fan.
    bring back the good old days when you could tell a racist joke to your neighbor who was of another race than your own. and you both busted a gut laughing at each other in public!!!!

    "and that is the rest of the story"

     

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  12.  
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    Mike, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 9:30am

    It's evolution, that's all.

    Give me a break, this is nothing different than a group of bullies picking on somebody behind the school. The only difference is it's online and written, therefore traceable. It's been happening for years, it's just in a new way now.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: huh?

    That would be a start.
    Then when that's completed they should dig a big hole in the ground and jump in.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 10:00am

    Re:

    The only difference between on and offline, is that offline you'd get your ass kicked, while online you get to think your idiotic remark has value.

     

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  15.  
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    Mike (profile), Mar 5th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    Re:

    While they may not be allowed to deny the individuals their rights to express themselves, those comments in and of themselves are not free from liability. Further, when comments are made that are hateful or which slander someone, the people providing the forum at some point may have to bear some responsibility for those comments.

    Um. No. That's simply untrue and makes no sense. Why should someone who did not make the slanderous comments bare blame for slander?

    We cannot anonymously call people out in public to their face most of the "Anonymous Coward" types would never show their face on TV or admit to their hateful opinions. Without identifying the poster, the subject of this hateful speech has no way to counter those often libelous statements.

    Once again totally untrue. You can respond to the comments.

    It's stunning how consistently you are wrong.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 11:42am

    Re:

    Not hiding behind skirts, but flexing their monetary Bully muscle. They’ve seen big corporations like Monsanto sue everyone in site to get their way, and it works. You just need to have money to get your way now.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 11:52am

    Freedom of speech and responsibility

    OK, I recognize the irony of posting anonymous in this thread.

    That being said, there are at least a few things that make non-online speech a bit different than online speech.

    Non-online speech normally has a finite lifetime. The spoken word normally has the lifetime of the conversation. In issues like Imus's comments, the spoken word will live as long as someone talks about it. However, I imagine not many people can quote Imus's comments verbatim and in context today.

    The written word requires physical media in order to propagate. If you don't have a copy of the paper, pamphlet, or tract, then at best you get the information second hand.

    In both of the above cases, responsibility goes along with the saying or publishing of sophomoric comments. The statement can be directly traceable. Other people can (and do) respond accordingly towards the people who make these comments.

    Online commentary (such as this) is a bit different. There are no consequences for posting inflammatory rhetoric online. There are no consequences for posting potentially embarrassing material online. I've seen people post supposedly private internet conversations (chats, private messages, web camera pictures) on a public blog with devastating results.

    I've also listened to recorded voices (from voice chat) edited into pretty horrific statements and then posted on blogs. I don't know the legal ramifications of this, but the end result is certainly unpleasant.

    These comments also have a much longer lifespan than comments in more traditional venues. I can pull up information that I posted over 20 years ago with a simple search. I'm sure unpleasant comments about people have similar life spans.

    How do we deal with the potentially damaging online behavior? Curtailing free speech doesn't seem to be a good answer. Just "letting it slide" doesn't seem to be a good answer either.

    Without proper context, damaging speech can negatively impact both online and offline lives. Obtaining that context is difficult to impossible, since in many cases it would require reading an entire thread of conversation. With edited voice recordings, the context has purposefully been destroyed.

    I think a combination of education, web site owner management, and a lessening of anonymous postings might be used to combat the long term issues of irresponsible free speech on long-lived media.

    People need to become educated in that what they say can be traced online and may reflect on their future online and offline lives. Web site managers should work on dealing with obvious trolls with clear site policy and consistent action. Finally, people need to take responsibility for their posting. If a person is going to troll, or act belligerently then that person needs to be accountable.

    I think the end result will be a segmenting of the web portion of the Internet. Certain sites will baulk at creating a responsible forum for free speech. People will learn that those sites consist of little more than school children screaming names at each other. The information from those sites should then be viewed with the appropriate filter. Children acting badly . . . nothing to see here.

    Other sites where there is heated, responsible discourse will exist. Information from those sites will then be treated appropriately. Posters will have to understand that their statements are long-lived, and that they must be responsible for their words.

    People (employers, potential spouses, etc.) will then have some grounds for evaluating the weight of the information they read. The reader will then have the capability (and responsibility) to place the comments in context.

    Lessons of responsible free speech should have been learned in grade school, or at worst middle school. Apparently the lesson being learned is if you can get away with it, do it.

    I would like to see the attitude and the environment changed (preferably without legislation).

    Or in chat parlance . . . that's what the ignore button is for.

     

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  18.  
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    jonnyq, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re:

    It's stunning how consistently you are wrong.

    Well, at lease he's not quite so angry anymore.

     

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  19.  
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    Here is my name, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 5:05pm

    Am I anonymous ?

    I entered a name,
    am I ok now ?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 5:10pm

    Re:

    Harold,

    You are not a lawyer are you ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    sprearson81 (profile), Jun 9th, 2012 @ 5:53am

    Harold is not even a human being :P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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