Archive for the ‘defamation’ Category

Sense of Personal Betrayal at Root of Real Housewives Star Suit Against Blog Commenter

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Reality-television star Lisa Hochstein is suing a blog commenter for saying Hochstein “was an escort who also did soft porn in Vegas.”

Hochstein, who is an ensemble case member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami, says the defendant, Jessica Lederman, has been to Hochstein’s house. And that’s apparently what spurred her to sue.

“This person is an acquaintance we’ve invited in our home and who has smiled in our faces. She had no shame in saying these horrible things,” Hochstein told the Miami Herald. “The fact that she knows me and I’ve seen her in my home, well, it just sits the wrong way . I’m not going to go after every blogger and commenter out there. Trust me, I’ve been called way worse. I have thick skin as part of this whole show, but this really struck a chord.”

The legal claims appear to be intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation with a prayer for $15,000.

Hochstein says she didn’t file the lawsuit for publicity reasons. Instead, it’s personal.

“I didn’t want it to get out of hand and I’m all for freedom of speech, but when you know someone personally and act like you’re friendly with them and then go making an accusation like that, it’s a big deal. What have I done to her?”

More:

Miami Herald: #RHOM’s Lisa Hochstein speaks out on controversial blog commenter lawsuit

TMZ.com: ‘REAL HOUSEWIVES’ STAR Sues Internet Commenter Over Call Girl Remarks

Court Ruling Seems to Overlook the Online Fact v. Opinion Question

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

From contributing blogger John S. Merculief II –

Recently I posted about Chaker v. Mateo, No. D058753, 2012 WL4711885 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2012). It dealt a strong victory for free speech rights, but in my opinion, the California appellate court turned something of a blind eye to the issue of the relative legitimacy of internet postings.

The court reached its decision largely on the basis that the online statements at issue were incapable of being defamatory because they were merely nonactionable opinions. In doing so, however, I think the courts are overlooking the reality that many users of such internet forums actually treat postings they read as fact.

The case principally involved the online postings of Wendy Mateo regarding her daughter Nicole’s ex-husband, Darren Chaker. Here are the key facts:

  1. Nicole Mateo and Chaker had a contentious custody battle over their child.
  2. Wendy Mateo posted degrading comments about Chaker in online forums.
  3. Chaker sued for defamation.
  4. Wendy Mateo filed an anti-SLAPP suit and won.
  5. The appellate court affirmed that she was merely exercising her First Amendment free speech rights in the matter.

The Chaker court points out that “the context in which the statements are made” is an extremely important aspect of the “totality of the circumstances” examination of whether a statement is actionable. “This contextual analysis demands that the courts look at the nature and full content of the audience to whom the publication was directed.”

The two online sites where Wendy Mateo posted her comments were:

  • Ripoff Report, which describes itself as “a worldwide consumer reporting Web site and publication, by consumers, for consumers, to file and document complaints about companies or individuals.”
  • A social networking site into which Chaker had inserted himself by posting a professional profile.

In arriving at its findings, the court acknowledges and openly joins a trend I see as sad and disturbing: “In determining statements are nonactionable opinions, a number of recent cases have relied heavily on the fact that statements were made in Internet forums.”

By giving credence to the idea that internet forums generally yield nonactionable opinions, I think the courts are overlooking the reality that many users of such forums actually treat postings they read as fact.

It is true that, around the watercooler, someone making a claim he knows to be unsupported by fact, will add, “I saw it on the internet, so it must be true,” as a sarcastic verbal signal that he knows his point is a weak one – even if he is not willing to yield it.

But the thing is, for many people, “I saw it on the internet, so it must be true” is not a sarcastic expression, but rather words to live by.

Does that make such a user legally “unreasonable”? That appears to be the judgment in recent cases. But if courts truly are to look at the “nature … of the audience to whom the publication was directed,” perhaps a better way to articulate the standard is “reasonable when viewed from the perspective of a typical user of an internet forum.”

To be sure, the Chaker court does not actually use the term “reasonable person” nor even the word “reasonable” in its roughly 10-page opinion. But I believe what it’s saying, in joining the internet-forum-as-opinion trend, is that a reasonable person would not go to those sites expecting facts.

And I don’t know whether that makes sense, given actual usage behaviors regarding visitors to internet forums.

Internet forums admittedly are often places for “outrageous claims” where some (the Chaker court says “most”) “visitors are completely aware of the unreliable nature of these posts.” And that seems to tilt the needle toward unactionable opinion.

But if a goodly number of those visitors treats those same claims as hard, verified (or at least verifiable) fact, doesn’t that tilt the needle into the realm of actionable statement of fact?

Former Mayor Must Pay $21,275 in Bloggers’ Legal Bills

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Aurora town logo(Image: Aurora, Ontario website, used without permission.)

A court in Ontario has ordered a former mayor to pay $21,275 in legal bills accumulated by bloggers defending themselves against a local politician’s attempt to silence online criticism.

In 2010, Phyllis Morris, then mayor of Aurora, Ontario, waged a litigation campaign against online critics while she was running for re-election. Notably, she got the town council to foot the bill for the lawsuit with taxpayer money. Months later, well after she lost the election, she voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit.

But defendants William Hogg, blog proprietor-moderator, and Richard Johnson, a blog contributor, kept the case file open to press the court for a money award to pay their defense bills.

Their push paid off.

According to the Toronto Star, in making the award, the Ontario Superior Court characterized Morris’ lawsuit as an attempt to hit her critics “quickly and hard,” in order to quiet her opponents “sooner rather than later in the weeks leading up to the October 2010 elections.”

Blogger Christopher Watts has more about the court’s award, plus a link to the court’s opinion, on his blog, Temporary Sanity.

Prior coverage on Blog Law Blog:

Coverage of the fee award:

Court treats degrading online postings as protected free-speech opinions

Friday, October 19th, 2012

From contributing blogger John S. Merculief II –

A California appellate court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling granting a woman’s anti-SLAPP motion against her daughter’s ex-husband regarding online postings the woman made about him.

The genesis of Darren Chaker’s lawsuit against Nicole Mateo and her mother, Wendy, was apparently a contentious custody battle in Texas courts regarding the former couple’s child. This battle appears to have helped prompt Wendy Mateo’s online comments, which in turn led to Chaker’s defamation suit.

In granting Wendy Mateo’s anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) motion to strike the defamation suit, the appellate court affirmed that she was merely exercising her First Amendment right to free speech in the matter.

Principally at issue in the case of Chaker v. Mateo, No. D058753, 2012 WL4711885 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2012) were the online postings of Wendy Mateo regarding ex-son-in-law Chaker’s business practices and moral character. Examples:
  • “This guy is … a deadbeat dad.”
  • “He may be taking steroids so who knows what could happen.”
  • “He uses people, is into illegal activities, etc.”
  • Varied accusations of fraud, deceit, picking up street walkers, and homeless drug addicts
The court found that the postings, while not on sites that were truly interactive, were at least on the internet, which functions as a worldwide bulletin board (read: public forum):
  • Something called “Ripoff Report,” which describes itself as “a worldwide consumer reporting Web site and publication, by consumers, for consumers, to file and document complaints about companies or individuals.”
  • A social networking site into which Chaker had inserted himself by posting a professional profile (the opinion styles him as working in “forensics”).
As such, the court found that the comments Wendy Mateo posted were of public interest, regarding each forum.
But the court went on to conclude that the statements were nonactionable opinions (or, in other words, free speech) rather than actionable statements of fact by considering the statements’ contexts – internet forums – as likely places for opinions rather than facts, and not so much their content: “In determining statements are nonactionable opinions, a number of recent cases have relied heavily on the fact that statements were made in Internet forums.”
In fact, in analogizing to a prior case it handled in which a defendant had posted nine claims against a bank and its CEO in an expletive-laced rant, the court said:
In finding the defendant’s statements were nonactionable opinions, the [prior] court relied in part on the fact they were posted on the Internet Craigslist “Rants and Raves” Web site and lacked “ ‘the formality and polish typically found in documents in which a reader would expect to find facts.’” Summit Bank v. Rogers, 206 Cal.App.4th 669, 696–701, 142 Cal.Rptr.3d 40 (2012).
Here’s a review of California’s anti-SLAPP statute (Cal Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16). According to the court’s opinion:
The statute, as subsequently amended, provides in part:
  • (b)(1) A cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim. …
  • “ ‘(e) As used in this section, “act in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech … in connection with a public issue” includes: … (3) any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest. …
Note that the statute sets up a two-part test. In plain terms, first, the defendant must show that the statement that the plaintiff complains of qualifies as free speech in connection with a public issue.
If the defendant succeeds with Step One, the case is not necessarily resolved: The plaintiff must then show that he at least has a reasonable chance of prevailing if the case goes to trial, in order for the case to proceed from there.
Here, the court found that Wendy Mateo’s online postings fit the criteria for California’s anti-SLAPP statute.
Further, the court found that the postings were in online forums where people do not expect to read factual information.
As such, the court foreclosed on Chaker’s defamation suit by concluding that Wendy Mateo’s online postings are nonactionable opinions, i.e. free speech.
Left unanswered, though, is the question of what to do about the reality that many people treat online forums as sources of fact. More on this in a follow-up post, coming soon.

Professor Ludington on Loosening Jurisdictional Hurdles Against Bloggers

Saturday, October 13th, 2012
Headshot of Sarah H Ludington

Professor Ludington (Photo: Campbell U.)

Professor Sarah H. Ludington of Campbell University has just published Aiming at the Wrong Target: The ‘Audience Targeting’ Test for Personal Jurisdiction in Internet Defamation Cases in the Ohio State Law Journal (73 Ohio State L.J. 541). She takes issue with a blogger-friendly Fourth Circuit case that said someone publishing on the internet can’t be sued for defamation outside of their state unless they specifically targeted an audience in that state. Professor Ludington would prefer for bloggers to be able to be sued away from their home so long as they have “minimum contacts” with jurisdiction in which the lawsuit is being brought.

Here’s the abstract:

In Young v. New Haven Advocate, 315 F.3d 256 (4th Cir. 2002), the Fourth Circuit crafted a jurisdictional test for Internet defamation that requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant specifically targeted an audience in the forum state for the state to exercise jurisdiction. This test relies on the presumption that the Internet — which is accessible everywhere — is targeted nowhere; it strongly protects foreign libel defendants who have published on the Internet from being sued outside of their home states. Other courts, including the North Carolina Court of Appeals, have since adopted or applied the test. The jurisdictional safe harbor (ironically) provided by the veryn ubiquity of the Internet is no doubt welcomed by media defendants and frequent Internet publishers (e.g., bloggers) whose use of the Internet exposes them to potentially nationwide jurisdiction for defamation. But it may go too far in protecting libel defendants from facing the consequences of their false and injurious statements. For every libel defendant insulated from jurisdiction in a remote location, there is also a libel plaintiff who has potentially been denied an effective remedy in a convenient location. This article argues that the jurisdictional test created in Young is flawed and particularly should not be applied to libel defendants. It concludes with a simple suggestion: that the appropriate test for personal jurisdiction over libel defendants in cases of Internet defamation is the standard minimum contacts analysis.

Ha’p Media Law Prof Blog.

Pippen’s Self-Affirmation Lawsuit is Over

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

(Photo from Scottie Pippen's Facebook page. Used without permission.)

A federal court in Illinois has dismissed a defamation case brought by Scottie Pippen against various websites for saying he was broke. The reason Pippen lost is because he failed to allege the actual malice hurdle required by the First Amendment for defamation cases brought by public figures.

This looks less like a win for the defendants and more like a withdrawal by Pippen. I’m not sure why Pippen couldn’t have kept going with this lawsuit – at least for a little while – by amending his complaint.

My guess is that Pippen probably had a lousy case he wasn’t going to win. So that begs the question, why did he file in the first place? Well, I think this is probably a typical celebrity-blowing-off-steam lawsuit. Throwing the lawyers around makes the celeb feel good and provides a way to try to blunt bad press with the news that the celeb is going to court. But, in this pattern, the case doesn’t go anywhere. The celeb  just gives up after a little while. It’s kind of an obnoxious use of the judicial system.

Ready to roll your eyes? Here’s the first paragraph of Pippen’s complaint:

It is a most foul libel indeed to be falsely accused of being bankrupt.

Oh, for crying out loud. Then look at the next paragraph:

That is what happened to Scottie, and the malicious libel was disseminated across the nation by the media.

Ooooh. I love the arm-over-shoulder cooing of his first name.

Then comes the third paragraph. It’s over 900 words and reads like a Wikipedia entry about Pippen that was written by his publicist. It starts by saying where he was born and then goes through his whole career, bestowing one accolade on the Pippen after another.

Then, at the end of the complaint, there is a prayer for relief asking for $1 million from each defendant.

Sometimes a complaint isn’t written for the court so much as it’s written for the media – what is sometimes called a “press release complaint.” Those are bad enough. But Pippen’s complaint appears to be the kind that is actually written for the client. Ugh. It’s lawyer-mediated self-affirmation. And it’s a colossal waste of time. Courts ought to feel more comfortable sanctioning this kind of thing.

At any rate, Pippen proved one thing in countering rumors of his insolvency: He at least has enough money that he can waste bags of it on a pointless lawsuit.

From a legal angle, the lawsuit is well-summed-up in the court’s minute order:

MINUTE entry before Honorable Sharon Johnson Coleman: In its order of 8/02/2012, the court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint, but allowed him to seek leave to file a complaint that made allegations that were legally sufficient under constitutional and defamation principles. The complaint that plaintiff now seeks leave to file alleges with more detail the recklessness of defendants’ publications regarding his financial status. However, as the court has observed, the malice required to establish liability for defamation of a public figure such as famed and well-respected athlete Scottie Pippen is greater than the mere failure to investigate, no matter how allegedly egregious that failure may be. The court concludes that plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint cannot be considered a sufficient allegation of defamation against a public figure. Plaintiff’s motion for leave to file that amended complaint is accordingly denied, and this action is dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment is denied. Civil case terminated.

Some case documents for your reference:

  • Minute Order of September 26, 2012 dismissing lawsuit [pdf]
  • ORDER of August 2, 2012 granting motion to dismiss [pdf]
  • ARIZONA BOARD OF REGENTS’ INDEPENDENT MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S AMENDED COMPLAINT[pdf]>
  • COMPLAINT [pdf]

ZAGG v. Catanach – Extended Excerpt

Friday, October 5th, 2012

ZAGG logoFollowing up on this morning’s post, here is an extended excerpt from ZAGG, Inc. v. Catanach (E.D. Pa. Sept. 27, 2012), denying the motion to dismiss of bloggers / b-school professors Catanach and Ketz of the Grumpy Old Accountants blog. The full opinion is available from the court as a pdf.

ZAGG, Inc. (“Zagg”) has brought this action for defamation and false light under Utah state law1 against Anthony H. Catanach, Jr. (“Catanach”) and J. Edward Ketz (“Ketz”), two business school professors at universities in Pennsylvania. Zagg alleges that Catanach and Ketz published false and defamatory statements about it on a blog. Before the court is the motion of Catanach and Ketz to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. …

Catanach and Ketz authored and caused to be published an article entitled “Don’t Gag on Zagg” on the Grumpy Old Accountants blog. In the article, they made a number of statements about Zagg’s accounting practices. Zagg alleges in its complaint that the following statements from the article are defamatory:

a. “The numbers are giving off so much smoke that we think management may have blinded both the auditors and investors.” b. “At worst, management may be ‘cooking the books.’”

c. “ZAGG’s balance sheet is littered with items prompting valuation and disclosure concerns.”

d. “The company includes accounts receivables from credit card processors in its reported cash balances. You know how we feel about this right? … Instead of the Company reporting positive cash flow for 2011, it really ‘burned’ cash.”

e. “[I]t is ironic and worrying that the ifrogz business segment is losing money right out of the gate.”

f. “Still not convinced that ZAGG management is massaging the numbers? Maybe the following will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”

g. “This is a financial reporting debacle in the making.”

h. “It makes us grumpy when a firm overstates its cash by adding in some receivables, as note 1 explains. And why did ZAGG do this? In an attempt to fool investors about its cash flows!”

To state a claim for defamation under Utah law, plaintiff “must show that defendants published the statements concerning him, that the statements were false, defamatory, and not subject to any privilege, that the statements were published with the requisite degree of fault, and that their publication resulted in damage.” West v. Thomson Newspapers, 872 P.2d 999, 1007-08 (Utah 1994) …

The statements in issue by Catanach and Ketz on the Grumpy Old Accountants blog were not merely nettlesome or embarrassing but rather were capable of damaging Zagg’s reputation. They directly impeached Zagg’s honesty with statements such as “[t]he numbers are giving off so much smoke that we think management may have blinded both the auditors and investors” and others such as “Zagg’s balance sheet is littered with items prompting valuation and disclosure concerns,” and “[Zagg is] attempt[ing] to fool investors about its cash flows.” These statements imply dishonesty and even criminality and thus are capable of defamatory meaning.

Even when statements may otherwise be capable of defamatory meaning, the Utah Constitution protects expressions of opinion …

The defendants contend that their statements in the Grumpy Old Accountants blog were all expressions of opinion, as noted in a disclaimer at the end of the article stating, “[t]his essay reflects the opinion of the authors and not necessarily the opinions of the Pennsylvania State University, the American College, or Villanova University.” They also point out that a number of statements are preceded with the words, “we think.” These exculpatory words in and of themselves do not save the statements in issue from being defamatory. See Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 US 1, 18 (1990). It would undermine the law of defamation if speakers or authors could simply employ a talismanic word formula to absolve themselves of slander or libel. See Id. at 18-19.

Although opinions are protected from defamation liability under the Utah Constitution, any facts implied by the opinion or underlying the opinion are not protected. West, 872 P.2d at 1015. The Supreme Court of Utah … relied specifically on “four factors as useful in distinguishing fact from opinion: (i) the common usage or meaning of the words used; (ii) whether the statement is capable of being objectively verified as true or false; (iii) the full context of the statement –- for example, the entire article or column –- in which the defamatory statement is made; and (iv) the broader setting in which the statement appears.” Id. (citing Ollman v. Evans, 750 F.2d 970, 979 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (en banc)).

We will address each factor in turn. The Ollman decision cited by West explained that the first factor, “common usage or meaning of the words used,” was relevant for “determining whether the statement has a precise core of meaning for which a consensus of understanding exists or, conversely, whether the statement is indefinite and ambiguous.” Ollman, 750 F.2d at 979 (citations omitted). The court reasoned that readers of the statements would be “considerably less likely to infer facts from an indefinite or ambiguous statement than one with a commonly understood meaning.” Id. Here, the statements by Catanach and Ketz have commonly understood meanings. For example, when a reader sees “[a]t worst, management may be ‘cooking the books’” or Zagg’s “attempt to fool investors about its cash flows,” he or she understands that the authors are implying false numbers in Zagg’s ledger amounting to at least potential criminality.

As for the second factor, the statements by Catanach and Ketz about Zagg are capable of being verified. Accountants are able to look at Zagg’s financial records and public filings to determine whether there were manipulations and irregularities giving rise to “valuation and disclosure concerns,” as accused.

Turning to the third factor, reading the full context of the blog posting would not lead a reader to believe that the statements were opinions and not steeped in fact. Even though the authors did include at the end of the article that the essay reflected their opinions and at times use the phrase “we think,” various statements in the article explained to the reader that the authors had read Zagg’s public filings and financial statements and were basing their statements on these factual disclosures. For example, the article states, “[o]ur review of the Company’s operating environment and the 2011 10-K leads us to conclude that at the very least, the Company’s reported amounts are suspect.” This statement is based on data from the 10-K. In sum, the full context of the article would not lead a reader to conclude it was mere opinion.

The fourth factor requires the court to consider “the broader setting in which the statement appears.” The Supreme Court of Utah explained that statements in newspaper editorials tend to be more exaggerated than “hard news,” and as a result readers are “less likely to form personal animus toward an individual based on statements made in an editorial.” Id. at 1009. This led the West court to determine that the statements at issue in that case, which were published in a newspaper editorial about a mayor of a town in Utah, were not capable of defamatory meaning. Similarly, here readers may be less likely to sell their stock in a company when they read about potential disclosure concerns on the Grumpy Old Accountants blog than, for example, on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, the defendants are professors at business schools, with apparently no political axe to grind. Readers are likely to take their statements about corporate finance seriously. …

In West the plaintiff was a public official, and the court explained that this factor was relevant to its finding that the statements were opinions not capable of defamatory meaning. Id. at 1009-10. The context of any statement is critical. Readers expect that public officials will be criticized in newspaper editorials and that these criticisms are opinions. Id. That is just the nature of politics. Here, in contrast, two business school professors are making statements about the dishonesty of a corporation. Public companies are not routinely accused of fraud by business professors, and any such accusations would not be presumed to be opinions. The statements of Catanach and Ketz about Zagg on their blog are therefore not protected opinions under Utah law because the meaning of the statements is clear, they are capable of being verified, and the context of the statements and the broader settings in which they appear do not signal to the reader that the statements are opinions and not facts.

Accordingly, we will deny the motion of the defendants to dismiss for failure to state a claim because the statements of these business school professors about Zagg on their blog are capable of defamatory meaning and are not protected as opinions. We, of course, make no determination of whether the statements are true or false. Whether defamation actually occurred will be for the fact-finder to decide.

ZAGG v. Catanach Reminder of What’s at Stake When You Click “Publish”

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Bloggers Anthony H. Catanach Jr. and J. Edward Ketz (Photos: Grumpy Old Accountants)

Two business school professors who author the Grumpy Old Accountants blog have lost a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss against ZAGG, a publicly traded corporation selling mobile phone accessories.

 

The case is ZAGG, Inc. v. Catanach (E.D. Pa. Sept. 27, 2012). The full opinion is available as a pdf. I will publish an extended excerpt later today.

Though this is a federal court in Philadelphia, it applied Utah defamation law.

Eric Goldman analyzes the case on his Technology & Marketing Law Blog. He notes that the professors still might win in the long run. But, he says:

[T]his case is a potent reminder that we as bloggers are betting our house with each blog post we make – and where we disseminate “negative” information that gores someone’s ox, the wounded ox just might gore us back. It’s one of the reasons why, after 2,000+ blog posts over nearly 8 years, my fingers still tremble a bit when I hit “publish” on a blog post that trashes a real live company or person. You as the readers tend to enjoy the bloodsport, but it’s only fun and games until someone gets sued.

Blogger Johnny Northside Victorious on Appeal – $60K Award Struck Down

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

An appeals court in Minnesota has struck down a $60,ooo defamation award against blogger  John Hoff (“Johnny Northside” on his blog). In doing so, the appeals court did what appeals courts are supposed to do – correct erroneous actions of trial courts.

Citizen Media Law Project’s blog has the full story and an analysis of the legal aspects: Justice Delayed But Not Denied – Appellate Court Overturns $60K Verdict Against Blogger for Posting “Not False” Information

Prior coverage on Blog Law Blog:

Today in Oregon: Blogging Former Church-Goer vs. Pastor with Anti-SLAPP Motion

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Defamation Defendant Julie Anne Smith (Image: Smith via Blogger.com)

A judge in Oregon is set today to hear the anti-SLAPP motion in the case of Pastor Charles O’Neal of the Beaverton Grace Bible Church, who is suing former church member Julie Anne Smith for defamation, seeking $500,000 in damages.

Smith’s blog, Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors, documents a cultish, creepy church. One commenter recounts a call for closet-raids to rid female church-goers of skimpy clothing.

An anti-SLAPP motion is a special kind of procedural device that allows the early summary dismissal of a lawsuit that is aimed at shutting down someone’s exercise of their First Amendment rights.

My bet is that Smith will win the anti-SLAPP motion, thus ending the lawsuit.

The best quick rundown of the fact’s is Smith’s own statement on her blog:

I began this blog in Feb. 2012 after noticing that the Google reviews I had posted of my former church were being removed. Days after the commencement of this blog, I received a legal summons suing me and three others for defamation to the tune of $500,000. The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced.

For me, the best evidece of Pastor Charles O’Neal’s sky-high creepster-factor is his own words, quoted by Smith on the blog, as he rails against her in a weird rant with frequent crazy-person use of ALL CAPS.

Nicely put is Smith’s February 25, 2012 response:

I wouldn’t waste my time on defamation – what is there to gain in that? I will, however, sacrifice my time and energy in speaking the truth when there is abuse of power going on and lives are at risk.

More:

London Tweeting: The Crown Prosecution Service Talks Twitter

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Flag of the U.K.A worthwhile article from the U.K.:

Social media and the law – How to stay out of trouble when using Twitter and Facebook

The story points up the many differences between the U.S. and U.K. when it comes to freedom of speech. Tweeting can quite easily constitute a crime in the UK, whereas the First Amendment in the U.S. makes it near to impossible to go to jail for a tweet.

Frank Ferguson, district crown prosecutor from Norfolk County in the East of England, identifies three types of social-media crime cases:

“Firstly, where people have committed an offence through abusing or bullying someone else, so that could be harassment or racism.

“Then we have the types of postings where the message results in an offence, such as someone is having a party, thousands turn up and criminal acts follow at that party.

“Thirdly we have seen many cases where someone has committed and offence and then goes on to social media to brag about what they have done. This is an example where it can help us to track someone down.”

Not that the first category of speech – with more – can’t constitute a crime in the U.S. because of the broad application of the First Amendment.

Also, as discussed in the article, a civil libel case in the U.K. can ruin a defendant - especially if the plaintiff is wealthy and the defendant lacks resources. It’s not just the judgment, it’s the U.K.’s loser-pays-the-attorneys-fees rule. In the U.S., with everyone bearing their own legal costs, plus with the First Amendment hurdles to libel actions, the specter of civil libel liability is much lower.

Record Jury Verdict for Online Defamation in Texas

Friday, April 27th, 2012

topixJurors in Texas have handed a $13.8 million libel verdict to a married couple defamed on Topix.

Debra Cassens Weiss reports in the ABA Journal that Texas lawyer Mark Lesher and his wife Rhonda filed the suit against four defendants who posted anonymous comments accusing the couple of molestation, drug dealing, and perverted sexual behavior.

The Tarrant County jury apparently set a new record for online-libel verdicts. According to the Leshers, more than 25,000 defamatory posts forced Mark to shutter his law practice and Rhonda to close her beauty salon.

Meagan Hassan, the Lesher’s attorney, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “This was clearly a vendetta.”

“We originally sued 178 John and Jane Does, and it all came down to two IP addresses,” she said. That led them to a married couple, Shannon and Gerald Coyel, and two employees of the couple, Charlie and Pat Doescher.

A few years ago, Shannon Coyel had accused the Leshers of sexually assaulting her. That led to a case and an acquittal in 2009.

Video Blogger Sues Keith Olbermann

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

James O'Keefe (Image: O'Keefe, via Twitter)

Conservative video blogger James O’Keefe is suing liberal TV talker Keith Olbermann for defamation, reports The New York Post)

O’Keefe is an A-lister of politically fueled citizen investigative journalism. He gained his fame by going undercover to expose the shenanigans of liberal community-activist group ACORN.

Last week, Olbermann-show guest David Schuster called O’Keefe “a convicted felon” and said he’d been accused of rape by a former co-worker. It appears that, in fact, O’Keefe once pled to a misdemeanor charge and had once been accused of harassment by a co-worker. Kind of not the same thing. Or even close.

If that’s all true, it looks like a decent libel case to me. But since O’Keefe is a public figure, he’ll have to over come the First Amendment standard of showing “actual malice,” which can be hard.

I personally didn’t realize that Olbermann was still on TV. It turns out that after disappearing from MSNBC, he’s turned up on Current TV, an Al-Gore-backed left-leaning cable network, which, I guess, I had kind of heard about some time ago. Current TV is also named in the suit.

Referring to the “mainstream media” by acronym, O’Keefe tweeted: “MSM will say, do anything to take a stop a citizen journalist they can not control. Understood. I’m going to sue them for libel, each time.”

I understand that O’Keefe is venting, but referring to Current TV as “mainstream media” is going off a little half-cocked. Mainstream? I’m not sure I get Current TV in my channel lineup, and I get approximately 17 bazillion channels. I think O’Keefe’s slam may be the best compliment Current TV has gotten recently.

Andrew Breitbart is Dead at 43

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Andrew Breitbart (Image: biggovernment.com)

Conservative superblogger Andrew Breitbart has died. He collapsed while walking in his Brentwood, California neighborhood shortly after midnight. He was 43.

Breitbart was best known for distributing a deceptively edited video that painted USDA employee Shirley Sherrod as a racist. The video resulted in her firing before it became understood that the Sherrod had not actually advanced a racist position in the speech videoed, but had, in fact, been telling a story championing racial healing.

Sherrod issued a classy statement:

“The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope through this very difficult time.”

Josh Gerstein at Politico speculates that Sherrod’s defamation lawsuit against Breitbart is “likely to continue.”

There’s nothing about Breitbart’s death that will legally affect the suit. But Sherrod could choose to drop it now. Either way, I would expect the lawsuit to continue against Larry O’Connor, a Breitbart aide who is a defendant in the suit.

Volokh Steps In to Help Blogger Crystal Cox Challenge $2.5 Million Defamation Judgment

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012


Eugene Volokh (Photo: Jeff Barnett-Winsby / UCLA)

Arthur Bright at Citizen Media Law Project blog has the latest on Obsidian Finance v. Cox in Oregon: Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law has stepped in to work on an appeal of the $2.5 million libel judgment against blogger Crystal Cox, which was rendered by a federal court last month.

Critical is whether First Amendment protections established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974) will apply to Cox, or whether, as a blogger, she’s not a member of the “media.”

A post last month by Eric P. Robinson explores both the Gertz issue and the court’s ruling on the application of the Oregon shield law.

Dr. Darm Settles Defamation Suit Against Blogger Tiffany Craig in Portland, Oregon

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Jerry Darm headshotOregon plastic surgeon Jerry Darm (Image: Darm, via YouTube)

Blogger Tiffany Craig (Criminally Vulgar, @tcraighenry) has reported that the lawsuit between her and plastic surgeon Jerry Darm has been settled.

This happened back in October, but you’re just now finding out about it on Blog Law Blog, where, with paywall-less blogging, you get what you pay for.

Darm sued for defamation, but then dismissed the suit. It looks like Darm just bailed after he realized that all that was likely to happen was that he would lose and get stuck with legal fees for both sides, thanks to Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law. The complained-of tweet and blog post are staying up.

The suit appears to have arisen out of this blog post, in which Craig embedded a YouTube video, since removed, of an uploaded Dr. Darm television commercial. Underneath, Craig wrote:

Seen that around? Sure you have. If you watch television in Portland Dr Darm is ubiquitous. Especially on those local channels that show endless reruns of Two and a Half Men. He wants to fix you up good and spend thousands on cosmetic procedures that will get funneled straight into his Lake Oswego home.

What he should have added with his Results May Vary disclaimer is Dr. Darm Handed Over His Medical License Due To Disciplinary Action. …

EFFECTIVE 10/18/01 RECEIVED A LETTER OF REPRIMAND FROM OREGON, REQUIRED TO HAVE A CHAPERONE WHEN EXAMINING FEMALE ADULTS, AND ADDITIONAL CONTINUING MEDICAL EDUCATION COURSES. EFFECTIVE 01/08/09 STIPULATED ORDER OF 10/18/01 IS TERMINATED.
That’s right, he was censured by the state because he was examining female patients without a chaperone. If that’s not bad enough? Apparently needed just a teensy bit more education about how to respect the boundaries of his patients.

Oh and California just decided that he shouldn’t be licensed at all. If he tries to get licensed in California, he has to reapply.

And maybe you’re thinking, “so what if he examined a female patient without a chaperone? How is that a big deal.” You should really read the judgement which says:

“Licensee examined Patient A on August 3, 2000 and September 21, 2000 to evaluate the treatment results. Patient A repeatedly expressed concern about some “spider” veins on her legs, but that she could not pay for additional treatment. Licensee informed Patient A that he would provide her with free treatment at his clinic closing time. On or about November 16, 2000 at about 9:30 PM, Licensee used a laser to treat Patient A’s condition on her legs. At the conclusion of the treatment, as she was reclined on her back, Licensee leaned over Patient A and made intimate physical contact with her and inferred that would be his payment.”

That’s right, he tried to get a woman to sleep with him in exchange for cosmetic surgery.
I’m don’t think Results May Vary is quite enough to warn people off being treated by Dr. Darm.

Assuming the quotes are accurate, how could this be defamatory?

A report on the settlement by Alex Zielinski in the alternative weekly newspaper, the Portland Mercury, implies it was this:

Craig … didn’t note that Darm’s license is now renewed in Oregon.

So what? If the reasonable implication of Craig’s post was that Darm wasn’t licensed in Oregon, then, true, that could be actionable. But when I read Craig’s post, I certainly do not come away with the idea that Darm is unlicensed in Oregon. Quite the opposite. Craig’s post seems to imply that he still is licensed in Oregon.

A better candidate for the allegedly actionable content is this:

That’s right, he tried to get a woman to sleep with him in exchange for cosmetic surgery.

Indeed, the quoted material Craig uses does not support the literal truth of that statement. Making “intimate physical contact” with a patient and “inferr[ing] that would be his payment” does not literally mean that Darm tried to get the patient to sleep with him. But American defamation law is tolerant of this kind of poetic license. An instructive case on this point is another litigation I blogged about out of the District of Oregon in 2011: Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox. (What is up with the onslaught of Oregon defamation-by-blog cases?) According to heritage Portland newspaper The Oregonian the papers filed by Craig’s attrorney, Linda Williams, argued that “the gist” of the blog post was true and that the statements, in context, were opinions based on verifiable facts.

More:

Canadian Supreme Court OK’s Hyperlinking to Defamation

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Front of Supreme Court of Canada courthouse on sunny dayThe Supreme Court of Canada courthouse in Ottawa. (Photo by Philippe Landreville, courtesy of the
SCC)

The Supreme Court of Canada has cleared bloggers from any feared liability for linking to defamatory content.

In Crookes v. Newton, a 6-3 decision held that a hyperlink to defamatory content does not make the linker a “publisher” of the defamatory content, which means that the linker cannot then be sued for defamation. Signaling agreement with the linked-to defamation doesn’t expose the linker to defamation either. Linkers can only be liable for libel if they use the link in such a way that they, themselves, end up conveying a defamatory communication.

Paul Schabas and Jon Goheen on the Inforrm blog have written a good synopsis of the case. In their words:

According to the majority, virtually any text accompanying a hyperlink to defamatory material will not lead to liability unless the text itself is defamatory. Even where a party indicates an unequivocal and positive adoption of the libel, as in the example given by the trial judge, there will be no defamation.

Also, Media Law Prof Blog has posted a long excerpt of the decision.

It’s Over in Aurora: Ex-Mayor in Ontario Gives Up on Lawsuit Against Blog

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011


Ex-Aurora Mayor Phyllis Morris. (Image: Phyllis Morris Campaign, used without permission.)

Back in January, I blogged about the taxpayer-funded litigation campaign waged by the mayor of Aurora, Ontario. She got the town council to pony up funds to go after the Aurora Citizen blog and anonymous critics voicing opposition to Morris via the blog’s comments. As it turns out, the lawsuit didn’t help Morris’s political fortunes. Morris suffered a landslide loss in her bid for re-election. And then, the town council voted to de-fund her lawsuit – something that probably never should have been funded on the taxpayer dime in the first place. This summer, a judge rebuffed Morris’s attempt to get a court order to unmask the three anonymous contributors who were, apparently, the authors of the content Morris found most objectionable.

After that string of setbacks, Morris has now voluntarily discontinued her suit – meaning that she’s given up entirely on the litigation.

Thanks to Blog Law Blog reader Chris for sending me a note about this one.

The discontinuance is functionally a vindication for the defendants, who are blog proprietor-moderators William Hogg and Elizabeth Bishenden, contributor Richard Johnson, three anonymous commenters, and host WordPress.com.

It’s hard to tell what all exactly the material was that Morris contended was defamatory. Her suit claimed that material on the Aurora Citizen subject her to “ridicule, hatred and contempt.” But the what and why is not clear. A post from September 16, 2010 reprints a letter received from the town attorney demanding the removal of certain comments from the Aurora Citizen – a request the blog complied with, so we can’t see exactly what those comments were, and they seem to be about a different town official. Another post suggests that some material posted over the course of August 24, 2010 through October 2, 2010 was the basis of a defamation allegation at some point. So I’m guessing this and this might have annoyed her. But I can’t tell with any particularity what the offending language was.

Here’s what the Aurora Citizen had to say:

It was manifestly unfair that the defendants were put to the time and expense of legal fees at the hands of Ms. Morris, most especially in light of the fact that Ms. Morris used tax dollars to pursue them in what appeared to be a politically motivated attack intended to silence their efforts to hold her government accountable.

It is equally telling that Ms. Morris discontinued the litigation when she was called upon to fund it out of her own pocket rather than use taxpayer funds as initially intended. She was fully prepared to use town resources to support her private lawsuit, at the towns’ sole risk and expense to her sole potential gain, despite the fact that the Town’s Code of Conduct states clearly that “public office is not to be used for personal gain”.

While the defendants, Hogg and Johnson defended their principles with their own funds — Phyllis Morris did not.

Hopefully, there has been a lesson learned from this experience. Freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic right of all Canadians — but it is a right that will be attacked, and will need protection.

More:

Everybody Loses: Tarazi v. Geller Settles

Monday, October 10th, 2011
Headshots of Tarazi and Geller

Attorney Tarazi and blogger Geller (Photos: Tarazi, Geller)

Ohio attorney Omar Tarazi has settled his lawsuit against Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller. The defamation claim stemmed from Geller’s allegations that Tarazi had ties to terrorists.

Under the terms of the settlement, Geller must delete five posts. No money changes hands.

Both sides are claiming victory – Of course.

In an end to what she termed “litigation jihad,” Geller blogged about the settlement, ”Islamic supremacism has suffered a stunning and well-deserved defeat, and a good, stiff kick in the ass.”

Tarazi was more subdued, blogging, “Pamela Geller finally caved in and agreed to permanently take down all of her defamatory posts regarding me to settle the lawsuit.”

The row came out of the 2009 case of Rifqa Bary, an Ohio girl who ran away from her Muslim parents and converted to Christianity. Tarazi was the attorney for Rifqa Bary’s parents. Bary said that her father had threatened to kill her for apostasy. (Authorities were apparently unable to find any corroboration for Bary’s allegation.) Geller, according to a quote on her site, is the “heroine of the right wing blogosphere.” She is also the executive director of a group called Stop Islamization of America

So, who really won?

Well, for fans of our winner-take-all adversarial system of civil litigation, that’s the shame of settlements. You really can’t say who won. Every time there’s a settlement, both sides can say they’ve reached a favorable outcome. That’s true by definition.

But if you want my outsider opinion, I would say nobody won. In fact, I think they both lost.

Geller is taking down her posts. That means she’s been muzzled. That’s clearly a loss for someone who puts herself out there, according to quotes on her website, as “a paragon of courage and fearlessness” and “an irrepressible firebrand.”

Tarazi, on the other hand, is getting no money out of the suit. The litigation was undoubtedly expensive for him to pursue, and when you ask for $10 million as an opening demand and then walk away with nothing, that’s a defeat in my book.

My reading between the lines is that both sides got tired of pursuing this and agreed to call it off.

In our adversarial system of justice, if everyone gets tired of fighting, that’s not only a loss for both sides, it’s a defeat for the system.

Tarazi said about the settlement, “I am … look[ing] forward to moving on with my life.”

How sad is our litigation system when a lawyer plaintiff wants to move on with his life?

More:

The ALL CAPS Defense to Defamation

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Sucks VERY Corrupt Liar EXPOSEFollowing up on Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox, should we go ahead and Confront the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

The case introduces an underappreciated strategy for sidestepping defamation liability. Call it the ALL CAPS libel defense.

If you look closely at the decision, the key behind Cox’s victory seemed to be her wild use of ALL CAPS, Title Caps, and bold typeface, combined with a strong helping of over-the-top invective and continual references to forthcoming proof.

Take a look at this analysis from U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez [pdf]:

Finally, the statements are not sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false. Cox repeatedly poses her statements as questions or asserts that she will prove her accusations. For example, she asserts that “a Whole Lot” of the “Truth” is “Coming Soon,” that she “intend[s] to Expose every Dirty Deed,” that Padrick “WILL BE EXPOSED,” that “YOU [meaning Padrick] will BE Indicted SOME TIME, someday,” and that she “WILL PROVE IT ALL.” Padrick Decl. at pp. 1-13. She tells the reader to “STAY TUNED,” and she asks “Kevin Padrick, Guilty of Tax Fraud?” Id. She also states that Padrick is a “cold hearted evil asshole” and is a “Cruel, Evil Discriminating Liar.” Ex. 1 to Padrick Decl.

Defendant’s use of question marks and her references to proof that will allegedly occur in the future negate any tendency for her statements to be understood as provable assertions of fact. Her statements contain so little actual content that they do not assert, or imply, verifiable assertions of fact. They are, instead, statements of exaggerated subjective belief such that they cannot be proven true or false.

Considering all of the statements in the record under the totality of circumstances, the statements at issue are not actionable assertions of fact, but are constitutionally protected expressions of opinion. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on the liability of the defamation claim is denied.

One way of thinking about this is that Cox’s unconventional style underminded her own credibility to an extent that the court was loathe to treat her allegations seriously enough to make them the basis of a libel case. I’m sorry if that’s harsh. (I know Ms. Cox will probably read this.) But that’s how I interpret the judge’s ruling.

So, I guess the lesson is that if you are going to defame someone, (1) put your foot on the gas, (2) put your pinky on the shift key, and (3) DON’T HOLD BACK!

Hyperbolic “____sucks.com” Blog Cleared of Defamation Liability

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

The Mark O Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore. (Photo: EEJ)

An interesting case out of Oregon has held that because of the “looser, more relaxed communication style” of blogs, it was not defamatory for blogger Crystal Cox of obsidianfinancesucks.com to accuse bankruptcy trustee Kevin Padrick of various forms of perfidy.

Cox’s blogged allegations against Padrick includeed money laundering, perpetrating “fraud on the courts,” and engaging in various “illegal activity.”

Most stunning to me, however, was that in one post, Cox strongly implied that Padrick had engaged in “Solar Tax Credit Crimes.” If that doesn’t sound reputation-harming to you, consider the geographical context: This took place in Portland, Oregon, my friends.

True story: P-Town is so environmentally conscious, that even at McDonald’s, after you bus your own table, you have to separate out your recyclables.

So I can only imagine that for Porlanders, Solar Tax Credit Crimes are right up there with murder, arson, and aggravated failure to compost.

But Cox didn’t merely imply things. Cox blogged that Padrick was a “Thief,” a “CRIMINAL,” and a “Corrupt Attorney.”

If you were taking a law school exam, you would quickly identify those statements as being factual assertions, which, if provably false and reptuation harming, could give rise to a claim for defamation.

But the federal court in Oregon took a more realist approach. It concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable reader could not have regarded the statements as provably false assertions.

Why not?

The court said that “the extensive use of hyperbolic and figurative language, and the posting of several questions rather than statements,” tended to show that Cox’s statements were not reasonably to be regarded as provable factual assertions.

What’s more, it mattered that the medium at issue was a blog. The court’s August 23 order, according to the RCFP report, explained: “Blogs are a subspecies of online speech which inherently suggest that statements made there are not likely provable assertions of fact[.]”

Yikes. If this is a victory for blog freedom, it sure comes with a sting.

More:

Trial Court Upholds $60K Award Against Johnny Northside

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Landmark building at the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota (Photo: EEJ)

Judge Denise Reilly in Minneapolis has upheld a jury verdict requiring blogger John Hoff (a/k/a “Johnny Northside”) to pay $60,000 for his blogging about Jerry Moore. This is a setback for free speech and bloggers’ rights, but I believe Hoff will eventually win this suit on appeal.

Moore worked at UMinn’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center where his job was studying home foreclosures. The dispute started when Hoff took to his Adventures of Johnny Northside blog to accuse Moore of involvement in a “high-profile fraudulent mortgage.” Moore was then immediately terminated by UMinn. Moore then sued Hoff.

The crazy thing about the story is that what Hoff wrote was true.

Truth, as you probably know, is a defense to defamation. But Moore’s cause of action wasn’t defamation; it was “tortious interference” with contract and prospective economic advantage.

Economic interference claims reside in the backwater of tort law. Most law-school classes in torts don’t bother to cover them. But the reality is that they are well-used in the courts. (I teach torts, and yes, I do teach economic interference.)

Based on claims of tortious economic interference, the Minneapolis jury awarded Moore $35,000 for lost salary and $25,000 for emotional distress. Real money, obviously.

Of course, not all jury verdicts become executable judgments. Trial judges can throw them out or reduce them. And appeals courts can overturn them. But we now know that this verdict has taken a big step forward, since the trial judge has approved of it. That means that if Hoff is going to be let off the hook, it will have to be by an appellate court.

An amicus brief [pdf] from the Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists argued, correctly in my view, that when a claim is in essence a defamation claim, then the courts should apply the safeguards of defamation law’s defenses – even when the claim is dressed up as one for tortious interference.

The amicus argued:

Outside the context of online publications, Minnesota courts have long held that merely providing truthful information cannot provide the basis for an action for tortious interference with contract or with prospective economic advantage, and both federal and state courts have rejected attempts by plaintiffs to evade the requirements of defamation law with the claim is essentially a defamation claim. … The court should … reject the plaintiff’s attempt to recover under a theory of tortious interference when that claim is based upon the same statement as his failed claim for defamation.

Unfortunately, this argument didn’t carry the day. At least not yet.

Hoff’s lawyer has vowed to appeal, and I think Hoff’s chances on appeal are excellent.

The correct view of the law is that the First Amendment protects what Hoff did here. And I think we can count on the courts to uphold that view. Consider that the U.S. Supreme Court held just this year that the First Amendment was effective in shielding the way-out-there members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who were found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress when they picketed funerals of fallen soldiers with hate-filled signs such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” (Snyder v. Phelps, No. 09–751 [pdf])

The way I see it, if there’s a First Amendment for Fred Phelps, then there’s just got to be one for Johnny Northside.

20/20 Interview with Nik Richie

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Nik Richie on 20/20A student of mine pointed out to me that ABC’s 20/20 news magazine did a piece on Sarah Jones, the Cincinnati Bengal cheerleader and Kentucky high school teacher who was wildly defamed on TheDirty.com and sued. That case is still unresolved. But the 20/20 piece is worth watching for no other reason than to be able to see Nik Richie answering questions.

If you are already happily ignorant of TheDirty.com, you should know that it’s a blog that posts photos of random people – often unknown, average people – and then attributes to them various sexual acts, sexually transmitted diseases, and crimes. It also commonly includes withering exegeses on these persons’ physical traits laced with profane invective.

The following, posted under a snapshot of a smiling college-aged girl, who was hugging a friend, is typical:

Nik, this fat waste of space is _____ ______. We went to high school together. She has always been thick… not in a good way. Her mom is nice but f*cking ugly. You can tell _____ will be just like her mom when she grows up… lol poor _____. She just posted on fb that some girls are so sad… yet she is the sad one to me. She is the BIGGEST SL*T I KNOW. When i say Big I mean physically BIG lol.

(“fb” means “Facebook” and “lol” means “laughing out loud.” The omissions indicated by underscores are mine.)

Nik Richie is the guy who makes all this possible. In the 20/20 interview, you can see that Richie is not only devoid of of conscience, but he is also megalomaniacal. In the interview Richie compares himself to – wait, are you sitting down? – Mark Zuckerberg.

You could sell Starbucks, and it’s the same, it’s the same thing. If it’s so terrible, why am I so demanded? Why am I a blogstar, as I call it? I’m pretty much a rockstar of the internet generation. … Look at Mark Zuckerberg. It’s the new wave of cool, hip, new celebrities. Internet celebrity. I’m in that realm with the Perez Hiltons, the Mark Zuckerbergs. You don’t have to be a computer nerd to be cool.

Whoa. First of all, Perez Hilton built up his following by constructing a personality people found compelling. And Mark Zuckerberg? Mark Zuckerberg not a “computer nerd”? I’ve made fun of Facebook, but let’s face it, Mark Zuckerberg is a serious geek. Zuckerberg has real geek chops – mathmatics, algorithms, coding, stuff like that. I take it, however, from his comments, that Richie doesn’t. That means that the only thing Richie has really brought to the table, that gives him his salient entrepreneurial advantage, is sociopathy.

In other words, Richie’s success in getting visitors to his site comes not from what Richie has – like far-sightedness, business acumen, or facility with technology (which Richie does not appear to have), it’s what Richie lacks – conscience.

To be proud of yourself under such circumstances is bizarre.

Hmmm. This reminds me of someone else who thinks they are an innovator. And I know you know who I’m talking about: Steve Gibson, founder of Righthaven. It’s the same fallacy I tried to explain in a post titled “Righthaven’s Innovation? Stooping Lower“:

Righthaven’s business plan is based around taking advantage of the law to do something the law itself never contemplated. I’ll give them this: Righthaven’s entrepreneurial angle is unique. But there’s nothing clever about it. Righthaven and its associated newspapers are on the cutting edge because they have stooped lower than anyone else in the news business has been willing to go. That’s nothing to be proud of.

That fits Nik Richie to T, except that TheDirty.com is not unique in the same way Righthaven is. And Steve Gibson is actually a smart guy. I see no indication of that with Richie.

Suit Against Y’all Politics Blogger Dismissed

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

The Associated Press is reporting that a Mississippi state court has dismissed a lawsuit against blogger Alan Lange of Y’all Politics.

FBI agent Hal Neilson brought the lawsuit against Lange and former federal prosecutor Tom Dawson over a book they co-wrote. That book, King of Torts, chronicled the scandal over superstar plaintiffs’ attorney Richard F.”Dickie” Scruggs’s attempt to bribe a state court judge to get a favorable ruling in a dispute with another lawyer over fees.

Neilson claimed in the lawsuit that King of Torts defamed him. But the judge tossed the litigation after Neilson and his attorney no-showed a hearing, apparently bailing out of the case.

UN Report: Internet as Human Rights Issue

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Blue flag of the United NationsThe United Nations Human Rights Council has published a report [pdf] by Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The document is heavy on analysis of online expression, looking at the internet as a human rights issue.

I’ll post various key excerpts on more specific topics in coming days. But first, here are some key excerpts of the report regarding the importance of the internet for free expression. There is a lot of good sense in here. Most importantly, the internet strongly identified as implicating human rights issues. Additionally, we get the counsel that because the internet is special, it deserves freedoms from regulation that traditional forms of media may not enjoy.

These excerpts are from paragraphs 2, 19-23,

The Special Rapporteur believes that the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies. Indeed, the recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights. As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States. …

Very few if any developments in information technologies have had such a revolutionary effect as the creation of the Internet. Unlike any other medium of communication, such as radio, television and printed publications based on one-way transmission of information, the Internet represents a significant leap forward as an interactive medium. Indeed, with the advent of Web 2.0 services, or intermediary platforms that facilitate participatory information sharing and collaboration in the creation of content, individuals are no longer passive recipients, but also active publishers of information. Such platforms are particularly valuable in countries where there is no independent media, as they enable individuals to share critical views and to find objective information.

Indeed, the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. …

… the framework of international human rights law remains relevant today and equally applicable to new communication technologies such as the Internet.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right on its own accord as it is an “enabler” of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realization of a range of other human rights.

The vast potential and benefits of the Internet are rooted in its unique characteristics, such as its speed, worldwide reach and relative anonymity. At the same time, these distinctive features of the Internet that enable individuals to disseminate information in “real time” and to mobilize people has also created fear amongst Governments and the powerful. This has led to increased restrictions on the Internet through the use of increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, monitor and identify activists and critics, criminalization of legitimate expression, and adoption of restrictive legislation to justify such measures. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur also emphasizes that the existing international human rights standards, in particular article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, remain pertinent in determining the types of restrictions that are in breach of States’ obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

However, in many instances, States restrict, control, manipulate and censor content disseminated via the Internet without any legal basis, or on the basis of broad and ambiguous laws, without justifying the purpose of such actions; and/or in a manner that is clearly unnecessary and/or disproportionate to achieving the intended aim, as explored in the following sections. Such actions are clearly incompatible with States’ obligations under international human rights law, and often create a broader “chilling effect” on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that due to the unique characteristics of the Internet, regulations or restrictions which may be deemed legitimate and proportionate for traditional media are often not so with regard to the Internet. For example, in cases of defamation of individuals’ reputation, given the ability of the individual concerned to exercise his/her right of reply instantly to restore the harm caused, the types of sanctions that are applied to offline defamation may be unnecessary or disproportionate.

Similarly, while the protection of children from inappropriate content may constitute a legitimate aim, the availability of software filters that parents and school authorities can use to control access to certain content renders action by the Government such as blocking less necessary, and difficult to justify.12 Furthermore, unlike the broadcasting sector, for which registration or licensing has been necessary to allow States to distribute limited frequencies, such requirements cannot be justified in the case of the Internet, as it can accommodate an unlimited number of points of entry and an essentially unlimited number of users.