Online Defamation Claims Gaining in Popularity

A trio of cases decided in Georgia over the past 15 months and a recent lawsuit filed against a San Antonio firm are perhaps signaling a new paradigm in cases involving claims of online defamation, a favorite topic here at “On the Merits.”

Because of the broad protections afforded by the First Amendment,  few plaintiffs in years past were willing to take on the time and expense of pursuing a defamation claim. But the expanding Internet and the accompanying amount of vitriol from bloggers and online commenters have given rise to a new breed of plaintiffs who are more willing to ask the courts to punish those accused of defamation. In the three Georgia cases, individuals who posted online comments on message boards and news websites were hit with damages ranging from $400,000 to $900,000. An attorney who won one of the verdicts attributed the high-dollar awards to the “public outrage over Internet nastiness.”
The advent of the internet removed the traditional middleman – an editor or TV news director, perhaps – whose job was to filter out the questionable, tasteless and outright slanderous content from reaching the world at large.  As a result, both individuals and businesses have had to deal with unprecedented nastiness.  These lawsuits demonstrate that the legal system is prepared to deal with the new world order, and with laws that are as old as the republic.   

Posted: 4/12/2012 6:55:07 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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