Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Be Careful what you say online

The Internet is making the world smaller, faster and more productive. One hundred years ago, it could take days to get a message from one side of the country to the other. Now, it takes seconds. Whether we are texting, tweeting, or emailing, we are all so wired that we can communicate virtually anywhere with anyone.

Nevertheless, rules of the old world still apply. Before cell phones and the Internet, there were do’s and don’ts. For instance, you couldn’t call your next door neighbor a murdering thief, unless he really was one (in which case you probably wouldn’t want to). If you did falsely accuse your neighbor of being a criminal, your neighbor could sue you for defamation – more commonly referred to as slander (spoken word) or libel (printed word). These rules still apply on the internet. Often, I encounter people who believe anything goes on the “Internet”

However, I am here to tell you that defaming someone online will still cost you money. There are no special statutory exemptions for statements made online. A good example of how this plays out in our local community can be found at this url. A number of posters to the TOPIX forum mistakenly believe that because what they say is online opinion, their speech is somehow protected. IT IS NOT PROTECTED. Therefore, be careful what you say online. It may be tempting to hide behind what you believe is cyber anonymity, but ultimately it may cost you significant sums of money.

Defamation is not the only way your online presence can get you in trouble. Attorneys, doctors, and others who have special restrictions can get in trouble quick when they forget the rules still apply to online speech. Here is a wonderful article about the missteps and mishaps of barristers who mistakenly believed special rules apply in the cyber world.

Bottom line, speech is speech. It doesn’t matter if its spoken online, in a checkout line, or a telegraph line (they do still exist). YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT YOU SAY.

If you need help, call me at 678-383-1690 or visit my website at If for whatever reason I can't help you, I'll point you in the direction of someone who can.

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