Friday, March 9, 2012

How to handle negative, anonymous posts and Internet defamation

[caption id="attachment_14508" align="alignleft" width="300"] Gays and Lesbians Against Defamation[/caption]

Carol Forsloff - Mary is an outspoken advocate for social change and found herself at the end of a list of anonymous posts on a site without contact information.  How does one handle negative, anonymous postings that occur everywhere and often without recourse or reason?

At the level of world security and communication, some anonymous posters maintain they are operating within the guidelines of free speech and to protect "we the people."  For example,  Wikileaks and a group called Anonymous are teaming up to publish what they maintain is the "dirty laundry" about an intelligence firm.   Free speech is underlined as the foundation argument for being able to write anything about anyone, no matter the risk.

Some websites encourage anonymous posts because an individual can protect his or her identity while complaining about a problem.  On the other hand, the innocent victims of Internet defamation have no forum to argue their position in the same space where the original negative post may be lodged.  Whether that is a college campus website  that allows students to gripe anonymously or a website like Topix, known with its anonymous posts that insult businesses, politicians and even private individuals, in that arena of free speech, there is often no available recourse for those offended by others if the site, and its owners and administrators, either refuse to take action or believe they have the protection of free speech in a manner that allows them to post anything, including information that can hurt.  Some of the offensive language can continue to present problems for racially divided communities in their efforts to heal long-term grievances, as in places like Natchitoches, Louisiana.

An attorney who specializes in defamation tells us it is very important, if an individual or group wants to seek legal action against an offender, to respond quickly.  Delays can cause problems in locating some of the offensive material, allowing the possible guilty party to dodge the responsibility.   Often a resolution can be made and the offending material taken down when reporting is done immediately.

And if you are one of those who likes to get back at people anonymously through social media, forums or your own blog, the risks involved might not be worth the free speech argument, especially when that speech is demonstrated to cause harm to another person.   That video someone thought funny about a young man's sexual orientation, that was posted on the Internet,  caused that young man, Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University,  to commit suicide.  Experts remind us the consequences of free speech turned to license is no remedy for irresponsible human behavior.