Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sue Scheff: Digital Journal

Model v. Google, ‘Net Verbal Abuse, Provokes Lawsuits

That’s because at least one woman has taken up the charge to get rid of verbal abuse and defamation. But is this a reasonable approach to free speech and will people be screaming about their rights if she wins or is this woman walking the walk that many women applaud?

Turns out that verbal abuse against women is not only in the bedroom and the kitchen of many homes, it is rampant online as well. Certainly men are abused as well, so they need not write in and say so. It’s a given. But verbal abuse online may be examined in the same way as other forms, and so may defamation.

One woman has had enough and isn’t going to take it anymore. There are other concerns that this case may also give precedent. Young bloggers might not applaud this woman’s right to fight, but listen up because the issue might become bigger then just this one case. Here it is, for your reading consumption.

Liskula Cohen, a model in Canada, has decided to sue Google because of offensive remarks that were made about her on a blog hosted by the Google service, Blogger publishing. This was reported originally by the. New York Daily News. Cohen, age 36, seeks the identity of the individual she claims slandered her, calling her certain epithets, most of which weren’t printed in the article, and the one that was is this “Our #1 skanky superstar.

The blog is called Skanks in NYC, and devotes itself to ridiculing photographs of the model. So Cohen is pursuing a claim against Google, demanding the identity of the blogger who is exercising what he or she believes is a free speech right to write anything. Her lawyer, after examining the site, has called it "libelous" and "defamatory."

A reporter who outlined the New York Daily News story asked the question, “Is her claim against Google viable?” She answered her own question by saying, “Um, probably not.” Perhaps the reporter does not know the meaning of defamation or doesn’t understand why there are site restrictions on posting certain types of remarks.

That’s likely because owners don’t want the possibility of getting into some sort of legal action. Perhaps she didn’t look up the meaning of defamation or understood what a lawyer deems it to be and what the limits are on free speech. Or perhaps she is not concerned about recent decisions that could set a precedent on what's coming up.

In Natchitoches, Louisiana in the United States, a number of professional people and civic leaders are up in arms about personal attacks that have gone on Topix. People hiding beyond made-up monikers have sometimes become quite vitriolic in their attacks. During an election of the local sheriff, they became racially charged as the sheriff is Creole. In a town with a significant racist past through slavery, only integrated in the late 60’s, this was troublesome. Complaint to the forum moderator sometimes doesn’t work nor do letters to the President of Topix. So some people are leading the charge to do something legislatively, as has been done in other parts of the world. The Anti-Defamation League is seeking to stop the use of the Internet in spreading hate speech. Germany has already moved to do something about it, according to this article, but there is still much to do.

Perhaps the writer on CNET might examine this website that outlines an award given to a plaintiff recently. Sue Scheff of Weston, Florida, pursued a judgment against a Louisiana woman and was awarded by the courts $11.3 million in a defamation lawsuit against the defendant who posted messages on the Internet accusing her of being a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud." A law professor at the University of Florida states that there may be a new trend in court cases with online messages.

Now about that model’s claim and whether or not it is viable. Um, possibly so, if the Florida precedent is used and the model’s claim found to be legitimate.