Facebook continues to be an engine for much needed litigation opportunity for distressed lawyers. In the most recent lawsuit, Denise Finkel, a former student at Oceanside High School,Civil is suing four former classmates, their parents, and Facebook for $3 million for alleged cyber bullying.
Civil lawsuits have always been a more viable option than criminal charges as shown in the Lori Drew case.
This case, however, appears to be kid on kid trash talk. With Facebook, such trash talk has become a more serious matter.
Finkel’s lawyer, Mark Altshul, says the former classmates creates a password protected site to destroy Finkel’s reputation, allegedly posts comments that she had AIDS, was an intravenous drug user, and had “inappropriate conduct with animals.” The purpose, according to Altshul, was to make Finkel “an unwanted soul.”
The defendants — Michael Dauber, Jeffrey Schwartz, Leah Herz and Melinda Danowitz — all graduated in 2008 with Finkel from Oceanside High School.
Finkel is now a student at the University of Albany.
These sites create an open forum and are generally not liable for the content of the posts. Unlike the Drew case of parents acting like malicious children, these were malicious minors engaging in classic (though reprehensible) playground trash talking. The damage caused by such attacks has now been magnified by the availability of these sites.
These cases highlight the protection given to Internet companies like Craigslist from defamation lawsuits. Under a federal law and the ruling in Zeran. The Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of the 1996 Act gives protections to online service providers from being sued for the actions of others. That section states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Kenneth Zeran sued America Online for negligence. On April 25, 1995, an unidentified person posted a message on an AOL bulletin board advertising “Naughty Oklahoma T-shirts.” It was a prank that featured offensive products about the Oklahoma bombing and told interested buyers to call “Ken” at Zeran’s home phone number in Seattle. Zeran notified AOL in a series of telephone calls and letters about the bogus posting. But AOL allegedly refused to take down the material. Then the prankster put more messages on the site from Ken, not only producing more calls but leading an announcer for the Oklahoma radio station KRXO to read the messages and encouraged listeners to call Zeran.
The Fourth Circuit held that Section 320 blocked any liability, even if AOL was informed of the falsity and harmfulness of the information. It was a very harsh decision and it is not clear that the federal law was truly intended to protect these companies for any liability under any circumstance for false and harmful postings.
For the full story, click here.