Internet Defamation: Rampant With Very Little Recourse

We are in a new age of internet policing that resembles a time more akin to the “Road Warrior” than organized law enforcement. Social media outlets have moved from serving as neutral platforms hosting 3rd party content to actually influencing posts and acting like publishers, picking winners and losers, and choosing content. Even further, responsibility and legal liability for defamatory and destructive speech has become virtually extinct due to legislation granting these platforms immunity from lawsuits.  Facebook, Twitter, and Google are immune from liability for defamation, invasion of privacy and other unlawful posts put on their sites because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prohibits one from suing these websites for defamatory speech posted by others. But, despite their immunity, these websites are also allowed to host anonymous speech that don’t convey the identity of the one posting the unlawful content.

social media defamation - shutterstock_1147333691Photo Credit: Shutterstock

So, for example, if someone hated you, they could go on one of these sites and say, “Person XYZ is a felon,” or something else horrible, false and defamatory. Now, it starts getting picked up in search results to the point that whenever someone Googles your name or something associated with you, it comes up for the world to see.

What do you do? You can’t sue Google or the website because they are immune, and you can’t sue the person who posted it because you don’t know who they are: they are anonymous. Your first demand is to the website to take it down because it’s a lie, and they refuse citing the first amendment and statutory law granting them immunity; “it’s someone else’s post” they tell you. You then demand the identity of the anonymous poster so you have someone to sue, and they won’t tell you because of their policies protecting anonymous postings.  You have to sue them to then get subpoena power to serve them to get the ISP address to then find the person. By this time, two months have gone by and it’s old news, already circulated across the world, and you may have already lost your job, friends, etc. because of the post. It’s a huge problem and needs to be addressed by legislation immediately.

Tre Lovell is an expert attorney in Los Angeles and a member of the exclusive Haute Lawyer Network. Visit his Haute Lawyer profile here.