“I want a clean fight boys. Keep it clean.”

Kudos to Karl Kronenberger for concisely capturing the characteristics of Internet defamation.

I was interviewed today for the syndicated radio show Culture Shocks on the topic of Internet defamation, and the possible chilling effect on free speech by lawsuits against those who publish defamatory comments. The host, Barry Lynn, was very even-handed, but I again found myself being cast as the anti-free speech proponent because I am not opposed to suing those who defame others on the Internet. During such interviews, when I explain that there are “serial defamers” who post false reviews to extract revenge for a perceived slight, or to bash the competition, I am usually met with skepticism.

Yelp Backlash
Yelp Backlash

In his piece entitled Defamation Superhighway, published in the Forum section of today’s Los Angeles Daily Journal, Kronenberger observed: “Despite this great number of prolific and legitimate reviewers, we cannot put our collective heads in the sand and deny that review sites draw some consumers who use them for unlawful purposes under the guise of legitimate free speech. . . . Also, business competitors can post negative reviews while posing as disinterested consumers.” He correctly points out that yelp.com, for example, further enables defamatory content by providing no mechanism for the victim to respond.

As I have explained in greater detail in prior posts, I don’t desire passage of a law that requires review sites to investigate claims of defamation. Such an approach would be unworkable in most instances, since every legitimate post that happened to be negative would be met with a cry of “defamation!” But if the review sites don’t want defamation attorneys to become the Internet Police, then they must permit the users to fill that role. That would include permitting the victim of a defamatory post to respond contiguously with the original post, not as a separate, far-removed post.

I’m reminded of the stereotypical boxing referee you see in the movies. Before the fight, he says to the boxers, “I want a clean fight boys. Keep it clean.” Let the boxers have at each other on review sites, but if you are going to stand back while one hits the other below the belt, then we defamation attorneys are going to step in.

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Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone, LLP

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View Aaron Morris, Trial Attorney and Partner at Morris & Stone, with emphasis on Free Speech and Defamation Law.

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