Dumb Asses Allowed Online

from the phew dept

One of the amusing/annoying things you begin to discover when you write stuff publicly for a living, is that people who don’t like what you write seem to think that just because they don’t like your opinion, it means that they have a legal claim against you. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve been threatened with at least five lawsuits in the past few years over such things (none ever went beyond the threat stage, once it was pointed out to the person complaining the lack of legal legs they were standing on). However, not everyone is so lucky. There are clear definitions for libel and defamation — and one judge has just put out a somewhat amusing ruling defending one site’s right to free speech, even if he was being obnoxious. The site in question called some candidates for a local city council election “dumb asses,” which the judge noted was an opinion, and impossible to prove false. “The statement that the plaintiff is a ‘Dumb Ass,’ even first among ‘Dumb Asses,’ communicates no factual proposition susceptible of proof or refutation.” Some of the other assertions made on the page stepped a bit closer to the line, including calling one candidate: “bankrupt, drunk & chewin’ tobaccy.” The judge noted that the candidate had, indeed, once filed for bankruptcy. He also got the man to admit that, while he was not an alcoholic, he has “consumed alcohol to the point of inebriation.” Finally, “he used only the present tense in denying that he chewed tobacco; for all the record shows, he might have chewed it in the very recent past, and might intend to chew it again in the future.” Thus, “bankrupt, drunk & chewin’ tobaccy” was allowed to stand as not being libel.

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