The Internet transformed society by providing a wealth of information at your fingertips. Never before has a person had access to such a vast array of information. However, the Internet also provides an unintended avenue for people to use anonymity to post false, defamatory, derogatory and disparaging comments about people and businesses. These posters manipulate or fabricate photographs, images of documents or graphics to mislead readers and embarrass their victims. Online defamation can be very damaging and can destroy careers, families, relationships and businesses.
The posting of defamatory material on the Internet is called “cyber-smear.” The posters do not divulge their identity or use pseudonyms to shield their true identity. Anonymity empowers them to post defamatory content they would not otherwise have posted if they could be identified. Protected by a cloak of anonymity and given a worldwide audience, the posters’ weapon of choice is the Internet. Such people can defame and ruin others at the speed of cyberspace from the comfort of their armchairs without fear of accountability or having their credibility being called into question. Often the posters are competitors, disgruntled/former employees, adverse litigants, sociopaths or bullies, all of whom have an agenda or motive.
These posters use the ubiquity of the Internet to disseminate their cyber-smear because their posts can be accessed from around the world almost instantaneously and without any expense. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has observed, with the Internet “… any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.” Reno v. A.C.L.U., 521 U.S. 844, 870 (1997). Simply stated, the Internet creates the perfect environment for these destructive smear campaigns and rumormongers.
However, there is hope for victims of cyber-smear. Louisiana law affords the recovery of damages and injunctive relief (stopping the defamation) in defamation cases. A civil suit can be filed, and through a series of subpoenas, the Internet Protocol (I.P.) address of the poster of the cyber-smear and the poster’s account information can be revealed. Usually, having the identity of the poster will resolve the cyber-smear. If the cyber-smear does not end, a cease and desist letter can be sent to the poster and to the owner of webpage where the offensive material was posted. If the demand letter is ignored, the lawsuit can be amended to specifically name the poster and the civil case can proceed directly against the poster.
Thomas “Tommy” Davenport, Jr., is a zealous advocate for those who have been harmed by cyber-smear. Tommy can expose the identities of these corporate and personal antagonists and bring an end to their destructive smear and defamation.