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Texas Judge Orders Identification of Topix Trolls

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the who-the-hell-are-y'all? dept.

The Courts 344

eldavojohn writes "Ars Technica has a story on a Texas judge who has ordered Topix.com to hand over the identifying details of 178 trolls that allegedly made 'perverted, sick, vile, inhumane accusations' about Mark & Rhonda Lesher. Mark Lesher was accused of sexually assaulting an unidentified former client (and subsequently found not guilty) which prompted the not so understanding discussions on Topix. Topix has until March 6 to give up the information. Let's hope the Leshers don't visit Slashdot!"

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lulz (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817301)

lulz

Troll!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818371)

Muahahaha..
Come and get me, you piece of shit!
come on... mod me Troll, see if I care!!!

I wonder... (0, Offtopic)

dov_0 (1438253) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817307)

if the guy who made the first post would get a higher penalty?

The Judge (0, Flamebait)

Raynor (925006) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817325)

is a cad. Mark Lesher is also a cad. Mrs. Lesher, if she was a man, would be a cad.

Re:The Judge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817401)

cad? Splain.

Re:The Judge (4, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817489)

http://letmegooglethatforyou.com/?q=define%3A+cad [letmegoogl...foryou.com]

Although, from what little I know of the situation, I disagree with the assertion that the judge is a cad. At face value it looks like he is doing the correct thing. He was presented with specific posts that are legally actionable and he is continuing the action on those posts.

-Rick

Re:The Judge (3, Insightful)

Raynor (925006) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817775)

God forbid this judge actually visit part of the internet... I shudder to think what would happen if he saw 4chan... although it would be pretty funny. "Judge orders anonymous to turn itself in."

Re:The Judge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818115)

Raynor blows goats. I have pictures.

Now all you have to do is petition a judge for /.'s records and we can go to court - Hooray! The system works!

-A. C. Troll

Re:The Judge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818379)

Unfortunately for Raynor, truth is a defense against libel, so I'm afraid he's screwed in this case.

Re:The Judge (5, Insightful)

2short (466733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818493)


It is important to note that a decision that appears bad or stupid may well result from a perfectly smart and competent judge correctly interpreting a bad or stupid law.

When a judge says the law says something you don't like, don't blame the judge unless you really think the law says something different than they do. Cases where there is good reason to disagree about what the law says are not nearly so common as cases where the law clearly and unarguably says something dumb.

Strange Loop Troll (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817327)

I have herpes.

Now I demand that you hand identifying information of me to me for that slanderous comment I made about myself! You have two weeks to comply!

Re:Strange Loop Troll (2, Funny)

mschuyler (197441) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817763)

Umm, it's not slanderous if it's true. And it may be actionable of you don't tell your partner. Oh, wait! This is /.

Re:Strange Loop Troll (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818227)

It's not slander anyway, it's libel.

And the test of truth happens in court, in front of a jury, which is why they're trying to find the people making the statements so that they can bring them into court and test their veracity.

Re:Strange Loop Troll (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817965)

First, it wouldn't be slander, it would be libel. Slander is spoken. Libel is written.

Second, it's not libel (or slander, for that matter) if the person you're attempting to libel (or slander) has not actually been identified. Since you posted anonymously and referred to the object of your libel as simply "I", no one has any way of knowing who you're talking about, and therefore your reputation has not been damaged (which is a requirement for it to be libel or slander).

Third, as someone else pointed out, it's not libel (or slander) if it's true.

Re:Strange Loop Troll (5, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818393)

First, it wouldn't be slander, it would be libel. Slander is spoken. Libel is written.

I've always thought that was a silly distinction for the law to make. The words are the problem, not the medium. What difference does it make whether it was spoken or written?

And what happens if I slander someone, and someone else writes it down? Am I guilty of libel now that my statements have been committed to paper?

Re:Strange Loop Troll (0, Offtopic)

PhreakOfTime (588141) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818419)

And I think this is a very good point as to why anonymous posting should be allowed.

About a year ago, I received what is most commonly known as a 'Cease and Desist Letter'. It was not written by a judge, it was not the result of a jury or any type of court ruling. It was just the ranting of a lawyer, who in my opinion, ranks very high in the incompetence area.

Now, anyone can read the letter that Caton Commercial [demystify.info] sent. It has been posted for anyone to read, with the intention of shining a light on this incredibly ignorant tactic.

The letter referred to a post I had on a website, that listed the public court schedule for a particular company in my area. Let me repeat that again, the letter listed the PUBLIC COURT SCHEDULE for the appearances of a company in my area.

Because I chose not to be anonymous in my posting of this information, it was easy to find me, and I had the enjoyment(and later amusement) of reading this letter and the incredibly ignorant claims made in it.

In a way, I wish it would have gone to court. I would have LOVED to have heard this lawyer actually try to argue in front of the judge, that the public information that the county published itself was in any way libelous.

What happens if... (4, Interesting)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817341)

...they never logged identifying details?

Re:What happens if... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817603)

Topix.com would be obliged to hand over 178 blank sheets of paper?

Re:What happens if... (2, Insightful)

myVarNamesAreTooLon (1474005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817629)

... the users posting these comments gave fake information when creating an e-mail address to register at Topix and posted from an anonymous location such as an internet cafe?

Re:What happens if... (2, Insightful)

Fast Thick Pants (1081517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817995)

... the users posting these comments gave their neighbor's information when creating an e-mail address to register at Topix and posted from their neighbor's insecure wifi?

Re:What happens if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818211)

well, then it is full of win.

Could this be the end of trolling as we know it? (3, Insightful)

saskboy (600063) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817345)

Odds are good that the company will turn over the records, and nothing will come of it after that. Can you imagine them going after 170 people at once? I can't, unless they are the RIAA.

Re:Could this be the end of trolling as we know it (5, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817403)

And if they were the RIAA, it would magically become 17 000 people.

Re:Could this be the end of trolling as we know it (1)

Amazing Quantum Man (458715) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817713)

But that would be because 50 of them used broadband, which is like using 100 56K modem lines.

Re:Could this be the end of trolling as we know it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818269)

Isn't that 5,600,000?

Re:Could this be the end of trolling as we know it (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817525)

This is Texas, I can indeed imagine it.

Seems like the correct procedure (5, Informative)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817361)

Seems like they're following the correct procedure here. They've identified specific posts, shown them to a judge, had the judge determine that they have a cause of action based on those specific posts, and now are proceeding to ask for the identities of the people who made those posts so they can proceed with legal action. That's in contrast to other cases where the demand is a blanket demand not based on showing that specific posts are actionable.

The right to state your views anonymously does not extend to being a shield against liability if your statements are found to be actionable.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (5, Funny)

garcia (6573) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817599)

The right to state your views anonymously does not extend to being a shield against liability if your statements are found to be actionable.

Personally I don't even remember if I had heard that this couple had been accused of anything. Now I will forever remember them as the couple who gave a flying fucking rats ass what was said about them on the second most pointless forum on the Internet, Topix.

Seriously, grow the fuck up morons. No one with 1/16th of a brain gives a shit what any Internet troll has to say and no one, and I mean no one, pays any fucking attention to Topix what-so-ever. There really has to be a better way for this couple to waste their money, right?

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817737)

Seriously, grow the fuck up morons. No one with 1/16th of a brain gives a shit what any Internet troll has to say and no one, and I mean no one, pays any fucking attention to Topix what-so-ever. There really has to be a better way for this couple to waste their money, right?

Apparently, the court system is Texas *does* give a shit what someone says online.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817851)

Apparently, the court system is Texas *does* give a shit what someone says online.

This is also the state where patent trolls go. I guess they only like one type of troll down there in TX.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817947)

I'm simply saying that just because someone says something online doesn't mean you can say whatever you want about whomever you want without reprisal, legal or otherwise.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818039)

The kind with money?

WTF is wrong with the Texas legal system anyway? (1, Interesting)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818179)

It strikes me as odd that Texas, a state many of us considered the "first and foremost in protecting the rights of its populace against tyranny of federal government", now seems to be on a rampage of trampling on people's individual rights.

http://your-philosophy-sucks.blogspot.com/search/label/gummint [blogspot.com]

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2324220,00.asp [pcmag.com]

http://www.infowars.com/texas-lawyer-takes-on-bloodthirsty-cops/ [infowars.com]

Re:WTF is wrong with the Texas legal system anyway (5, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818399)

At one point in time, Texas was primarily filled with Texans. After the oil boom in the 80s and the rise of the Sun Belt, tons upon tons upon tons of people relocated to Texas. They didn't care a fig for how Texans did things in the past, and immediately began changing things to suit themselves. Prior to this, Texas and the United States sort of held each other at arm's length, which suited both parties.

Re:WTF is wrong with the Texas legal system anyway (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818455)

Texas likes to protect its citizens from the tyranny of federal government so that the tyranny of state government has someone left to act on.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (4, Insightful)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817915)

Personally I don't even remember if I had heard that this couple had been accused of anything. Now I will forever remember them as the couple who gave a flying fucking rats ass what was said about them on the second most pointless forum on the Internet, Topix.

I never heard of them either (and will, no doubt, forget their names quickly enough). I also don't give a rat's ass what was said about them anywhere.
But they obviously care if vitriolic untruths were spread about them in a public forum. Perhaps the next time one of them applies for a job, or tries to rent an apartment (for instance), that vitriol will come up in the google search. It is significant for them now and in the future.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (3, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817615)

What qualifies as an "actionable" post? If I say "I think you are an asshole!", is that actionable? How about if I make the ridiculous claim that "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!"?

I complained to my daughter's principle that my daughter's teacher was a racist and wasn't doing her job -- and promptly received a "Cease and Desist" order from the teacher's lawyer accusing my of "Interfering with [the teacher's] business relationships" and "defamation"! Let's face it -- ANY comment made online could be considered actionable! I'm sorry, but I still believe my right to free speech extends to offensive speech, and that readers should be intelligent enough to recognize hyperbole when they see it -- especially in an anonymous post! Or do you think every time some punk in WoW calls me a "faggot", I should be able to turn around and sue him?

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (2, Informative)

zachdms (265636) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817695)

I still believe my right to free speech extends to offensive speech

The key words are "I" and "believe". That's just not how things work in the real world (libel, slander, etc).
Note that the Internet generally has intersected with the real world very loosely, which is part of many problems.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (2, Informative)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817825)

Not to mention that "offensive speech" is not synonymous with libel and slander.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (4, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818307)

"I believe" is exactly the root of the issue. You are free to state your opinions up until the point where it might be actionable under hate speech laws, and need have no fear of reprisal. Saying, "I think this guy is a total piece of shit and I hope he dies" is fine, because you can stand up in court and say, "I'm anonymous coward, and I support this message."

Saying, on the other hand, "This person is guilty of x crime" when that person has been proven innocent in a court of law...That's a falsehood, and actionable.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (4, Informative)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817721)

IANAL. "I think you are an asshole!" is not actionable as it clearly states an opinion. "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" is actionable (unless you can show it to be true!) as you make a clear statement of fact. IANAL.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (2)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817911)

IANAL. "I think you are an asshole!" is not actionable as it clearly states an opinion. "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" is actionable (unless you can show it to be true!) as you make a clear statement of fact. IANAL.

Having had a similar discussion with someone in the past I'll share what I learned with you. On the topic of the second statement it's still actionable in some parts of the world (the UK notably) where truth is not considered a defense to libel. IANAL yada yada yada.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (4, Funny)

redxxx (1194349) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818249)

In the United States obvious satire is not actionable. Basically, a reader of normal intelligence would have to expect to believe it, while the person posting it does not have a good faith belief that it is true(which is also required in the US for libel).

So, if I made the statement "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" it would be actionable, because to someone who is farmilar with Todd Knarr it would be believable that he had sex with 'farm' animals, but I don't have a good faith belief that the animals he has sex with were raised on farms.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

redxxx (1194349) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818283)

of course, by 'actionable' I mean libelous. grrr...

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817829)

What qualifies as actionable? What the judge says is actionable. Note that that doesn't neccesarily mean it'll be found to be libelous in the end, but it's been shown to an independent judge and he's found it's sufficient in itself to provide grounds to go forward.

Your own examples show the point. In none of your cases were the actual statements put before a judge to rule on whether they're actionable or not. In all of them, only the complaintant (the teacher, or you) is making a claim and no judge has ruled on whether the facts (statements) support the claim. In this case the plaintiffs put the statements before the judge and he ruled that the statements supported a claim of libel.

Yes, your right to free speech extends to offensive speech. But as I said, the right to make an offensive or illegal statement doesn't include a right not to be held liable for that statement. It at most includes a right not to have your identity revealed until after a court's found the statements to in fact be actionable.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (2, Interesting)

orion67 (591651) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817871)

do you think every time some punk in WoW calls me a "faggot", I should be able to turn around and sue him?

IANAL, but yes, if you choose to do so. But if he says "I think you are a faggot" then you probably won't get anywhere. If he says that he knows for a fact you are a faggot, and assuming that being known as a "faggot" is a bad thing for you, and assuming a ton of other conditions apply, then maybe you could sue him and get some relief.

But, as with many legal options, practical financial considerations often drive the outcome, rather than strict rule of law. What would be your financial motivation to sue the person ("punk" is kind of libelous, don't you think?) that is calling you a "faggot" online? If I were his attorney I'd try to convince the jury that you are not really legally damaged in any financial way by this comment, and that you are trying to abuse the court system by suing over something that would be considered trivial to most people.

None of this means you can't sue - it just means that it probably wouldn't be such a good idea.

In this case, I'd guess the burden of proving actual damage would fall on the plaintiffs. This might be one of those court cases that will get settled for pennies on the dollar, or outright dismissed, and THAT story most likely won't make the wire service, because it doesn't really spark any debate like this one does...

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818275)

The teacher's lawyer claims he doesn't need to prove any actual damages in order to sue -- in others words, the teacher can sue for _intent_ to make her lose her job, regardless of whether she lost her job or not. Sort of makes it difficult to hold people accountable for their actions when you're afraid to complain about them for fear of being sued, doesn't it? Couldn't the trolls turn around and sue the Leshers for libeling and harassing them? How about a counterclaim of barratry? I suspect the libelous statements were made by minors below legal age who have no assets anyway, in which case no sane lawyer would take on the case and the most the Leshers could accomplish is injunctive relief to prevent any further negative statements. But the Leshers have already done far more damage to their reputations by triggering the "Streisand Effect" than the original trolls, whom most people would have promptly ignored -- just like we ignore trolls here on slashdot.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818377)

IANAL but I was once told by a lawyer that you can bring a civil suit against someone for anything you want, whether you have a case or not. It's just that doing so most likely won't get you anywhere except maybe in trouble for wasting the courts time, or for the lawyer involved possible disbarment.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

Povno (1460131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818051)

But without the veil of anonymity would the result be unchanged? Of course not trolls exist, unaccountably, in the space between their physical selves and the reader. They're merely being called out to own up to what they said, weather hyperbole or not.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818107)

How about if I make the ridiculous claim that "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!"?

From here [criminal-l...source.com] :
A number of Supreme Court decisions have made a plaintiff's defamation case more difficult to win. A defamation case can be dismissed if the statements that were made were opinions rather than fact; were true, or are considered "fair comment and criticism." Defamation must also be believable in order to be considered damaging to a person's reputation. In many defamation cases the plaintiff must prove that the defendant deliberately made statement that s/he knew to be false and defamatory

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (2, Informative)

quickOnTheUptake (1450889) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818125)

Libel is fairly well deliniated. [law.com]
I don't particularly like the idea of pursuing anonymous posts as libelous, but your post is just ignorant.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818483)

So you think no one should be responsible for what they say or do, so long as they are anonymous?

Your belief is a huge part of what is wrong with society.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818241)

Sex with farm animals? Oh, you mean like the the Mesa deputy fire chief case a while back. Anyone that thinks this is not "believable" is missing a huge chunk of current events. Of course it is believable!

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (3, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817635)

Having perused the Topix forum for my local community, I'm honestly not surprised.

Literally half of the posts there are personal attacks, bigoted remarks, or slander of some kind.

My first time reading \b was less harmful to my outlook on humanity...

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (4, Insightful)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818263)

Prior to this I'd never heard of Topix before... and after reading everything on here I'm going to pretend I still haven't heard of it.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (4, Interesting)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817697)

Topix is registered in Washington and hosted in California. What happens if they refuse? Is the judge going to 'ban' them from Texas? What if the posters are in Indiana or Europe?

How do they plan on identifying people that are more than likely pseudonyms? Most forums I'm on I have a random name generator give me a name and it goes to a generic gmail account.

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817867)

Man, I hope the My Little Pony forum troll [slashdot.org] is safe ... some of his materials seems pretty actionable [flickr.com] .

Re:Seems like the correct procedure (1)

gknoy (899301) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818405)

The right to state your views anonymously does not extend to being a shield against liability if your statements are found to be actionable.

If the site keeps no information from anonymous posters (and I think /. doesn't keep info on ACs, though I could be wrong), what can you do? Without timestamps and an IP address (or some other identifiers), I don't think you can do much more than drop the case (which sucks for those being libeled or otherwise trolled), or get mad at the site for allowing anonymous content. Hello, censorship; I'd prefer that not happen.

Now, if the forum host falsely claims to keep no information, and refuses to give it up ... fry 'em. I would hope that anyone would willingly comply with an investigation for that. Ideally (for anonymous posters), that compliance would be of the nature of, "We don't have any records of WHO posted that, as our anonymization policy forbids it. Here's source code showing that we don't keep such records."

From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817375)

"It just... basically made us both feel like common criminals," the Leshers told the Dallas Morning News (via TechDirt). "It's like someone had basically raped us of our reputation and our standing in the community over and over and over again."

Can someone provide me with the secret version of the Bill of Rights which has things like:

It's my right as an American to do (insert thing that is not in the US Bill of Rights [wikipedia.org] )?

I want to see if the secret B.O.R. gives you the right to not be made to feel bad by someones free speech.

Re:From TFA (2, Informative)

seebs (15766) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817425)

Look up the word "defamation". There is actually something of a right not to be talked badly about in some very specific cases.

Re:From TFA (1)

Compholio (770966) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817505)

Look up the word "defamation". There is actually something of a right not to be talked badly about in some very specific cases.

But the "right" to not be defamed is not defined in the constitution, so doesn't the right to free speech over-ride the "right" not to be defamed?

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817575)

So all defamation court proceedings are unconstitutional?

Re:From TFA (1)

Lostlander (1219708) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818043)

To troll for a moment, Yes. that's the point of free speech not to be superseded by any government law. After all it was created because they weren't allowed to speak out against government laws and criticize the king.

You have no right to stop someone from saying something. But so too do you have a right to not listen to it. You can always close a page or otherwise obscure the free speech of another for yourself. You don't have to listen or read it. But that right does not extend so far as it stops someone from saying what is in their right to say. As there is always the option of not being there.

Re:From TFA (1)

tyllwin (513130) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817609)

But the "right" to not be defamed is not defined in the constitution, so doesn't the right to free speech over-ride the "right" not to be defamed?

Of course. You have the right to say it. I have the right to recover money damages for the harm you've done me.

Re:From TFA (1)

Lostlander (1219708) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818255)

or abridging the freedom of speech

From the bill of rights. By putting a cost on certain words you are abridging my freedom of speech as I would be limited by the amount of money I am willing and able to spend on putting forward my words. No limitation on speech is legal. Just as conversely if one is to assume one has the right to not hear things one cannot be forced to listen to them in any form. Thus mandating a form of communication is also illegal as it would put people in the position where they may be forced to listen to something they do not wish to. Harassment either verbal or physical is a form of trespass and does not fall under speech. As an internet forum is neither a physical place or a reasonably inescapable venue there can be no trespass and therefore no crime can be committed with regards to speech.

At least that's how I view it. The word of law is the word of law let's stop letting lawyers 'interpret' it for us shall we. IANAL YMMV and other acronyms I'm sure that may apply.

Re:From TFA (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817667)

But the "right" to not be defamed is not defined in the constitution, so doesn't the right to free speech over-ride the "right" not to be defamed?

I am not a lawyer, and am going purely on common sense here: I think that the right of to not be defamed (I didn't put those sarcastic quotes of yours) is a basic human right.

Re:From TFA (2, Informative)

Sj0 (472011) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817703)

Either way, defamation isn't a criminal statute. Nobody is going to be put in jail for this, either way.

On the other hand, I've been defamed recently, and was incapable of taking legal action because the person in question isn't likely to be believed, thus eliminating any ability to prove liability.

I don't think anonymous posters to a website would meet the standard of believability, and thus would be 'libel proof'.

That said, I lie every time I join a forum. "Oh sure, my name is Bob Dylan, and I'm from Beverly Hills, California -- Zip Code 90210!"

Sue away, in that case. I'm sure Bob will appreciate it.

Re:From TFA (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817719)

But the "right" to not be defamed is not defined in the constitution, so doesn't the right to free speech over-ride the "right" not to be defamed?

What made you think the bill of rights is in any way complete? It's perfectly reasonable to make it illegal for someone to spread damaging disinformation about you.

Re:From TFA (3, Informative)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817747)

Well the right to free speech isn't unlimited according to current law. There are laws regarding defamation/libel/slander, for example, that could leave you open to a civil case. In this case, it's not really the government itself silencing you, but the government handling a dispute between two private parties.

But also, there are rules against "speech" that recklessly endangers others, the classic example being yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. Also, encouraging others to commit a crime or helping to plan a crime is not protected as "free speech". Conspiracy to commit murder, for example, is a very serious crime even though the action may have only been "speech".

Re:From TFA (1)

Mr. Firewall (578517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817955)

But the "right" to not be defamed is not defined in the constitution

And according to the Ninth Amendment, neither are a whole host of other rights. Just because it wasn't enumerated in the first Ten Amendments doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Re:From TFA (5, Insightful)

ubernostrum (219442) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817987)

But the "right" to not be defamed is not defined in the constitution, so doesn't the right to free speech over-ride the "right" not to be defamed?

Sigh.

The ability to sue for libel, slander and general defamation does not infringe the right to free speech, because it does not restrict speech. It just does what most civil law is intended to do: hold people accountable for harm they cause.

To see an example, suppose you're a programmer looking for a job, and a company is about to hire you. But then someone at the company reads a post I've written about you on the Internet where I make (false) claims that you don't know anything about programming, that you were incompetent and cost my company lots of money, etc., and as a result they decide not to hire you. My post has caused actual harm to you (loss of a job opportunity), and you could bring a lawsuit against me to recover damages. Not a lawsuit forbidding me to write things, or forbidding me to say what's on my mind, but simply to compensate you for the harm my words caused. This is really no different from, say, being forced to pay to replace a window if I throw a rock through it.

And that distinction -- between regulating the act of speech, and holding people accountable for the consequences of the action -- is what makes all the Constitutional difference (a law forbidding you to speak would be unconstitutional -- the term is "prior restraint"). In other words, it's the difference between saying, before the fact, "you aren't allowed to do that" and saying, after the fact, "you must make amends for what you did". The former, when speech is involved, is called prior restraint and there are very few cases in which it's allowed. The latter is simply called a civil suit, and is as common as weeds.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818103)

IANAL - I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. You should always consult a licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and legal services.

Oh come on. It's not like the right to contraception while unmarried is in the Constitution. Yet we had to litigate that right.

You can state OPINIONS freely. "I think person X is a complete buffoon, and I do not like him."

You can state TRUE facts such as "Person X screwed me over during my business dealings with him." BUT... you CANNOT say something along the lines of "Person X always screws people over during business dealings, so don't use him for that service." That's not an opinion anymore: it's a blanket fact.

You CANNOT bald faced make false statements about facts that harm the individual. Example "Person X rapes pigs in the stockroom of business Y." It doesn't matter that it's outlandish.

Again. I am NOT a lawyer.

Re:From TFA (3, Informative)

orion67 (591651) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817503)

so if it's not in the Bill of Rights then you aren't allowed to sue over it? hey, everybody, the U.S. legal system has been simplified, and now all laws have been reduced to only what is in the Bill of Rights. Free speech is only free up to a point. Not everything that comes out of your mouth (nor, apparently, your keyboard) is protected by this right.

Re:From TFA (1)

Jabbrwokk (1015725) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817577)

Anonymous libel/slander does not equal free speech.

And it's kind of funny you posted AC.

Is Topix going to be held liable... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817515)

...for failing to adequately moderate their forum?

Re:Is Topix going to be held liable... (1)

Reddragon220 (890851) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817705)

While the site owners won't have any explicit liabilities they will have to deal with the legal fees involved in receiving the letter from people's lawyers.

If someone managed to hire a crackpot for their lawyer I suppose that they could be dragged beyond civil litigation on the claim that hosting the content for so long is an endorsement/facilitation of what took place.

Lesherous? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817559)

Go on! Away with your Lesherous actions!

I'm sorry...

It wouldn't be a bad thing (1)

Presto Vivace (882157) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817565)

if people began to believe that not anything goes on an Internet discussion board.

Re:It wouldn't be a bad thing (1)

scubamage (727538) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817663)

Yeah, damn that free speech thing. It goes too far. We should have to have all communications monitored at all times.

Re:It wouldn't be a bad thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817827)

Yeah, damn that free speech thing. It goes too far. We should have to have all communications monitored at all times.

It's not about being monitored by others, it's about monitoring yourself. These are real people you're talking to online. Real people with real feelings. I don't think policing it or moderation is the right answer, but if you'd feel uncomfortable saying it to somebody's face IRL, you should feel equally uncomfortable saying it online.

Re:It wouldn't be a bad thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818049)

Um, liable laws are well established and pre-date the Internet.

Free speech has limits. Oddly enough that's the sort of thing you'd know if you read your criminal code.

Re:It wouldn't be a bad thing (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818415)

We should have to have all communications monitored at all times.

      You already do? Oh wait I wasn't supposed to say- [gunshot]

What can we learn from this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817607)

Yet again more evidence that all parties in very sensitive cases, especially sexual assault ones, should be anonymous until a verdict is delivered.

Too many "no smoke without fire" believers in the world unfortunately. The internet can mean someone's life is totally destroyed - that person will never get a decent job again, but they were innocent.

Re:What can we learn from this? (1)

bakawolf (1362361) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817631)

Same works/worked for newspaper, radio, and television

Class action :) (1)

dimethylxanthine (946092) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817657)

When will judgment come to Slashdot?

The future of libel (3, Interesting)

FiveDozenWhales (1360717) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817669)

It seems like this kind of legal issue is popping up in the news more and more. With the increased media coverage of *channers trolling people, the "cyberbullying" scares of the past 10 years or so, and things like the Megan Meier case, libel and other forms of online harassment are becoming more of an issue.

Maybe it's just me, but I see parallels between this issue and that of copyright. Both are laws designed long ago, before the semi-anonymous mass-communication that is the internet, and both are facing the fact that this new technology challenges the very foundation of these laws.

Re:The future of libel (2, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818337)

There's no law against being an ass hole, and there never should be. Period. As Rowan Atkinson once said - the right to offend is far more important than the right to be offended. Anyone who takes what they read online so seriously that they become offended don't deserve to have a modem. Anyone who tries to start legal action based on said offense deserves to be shot. Who cares what a bunch of trolls said on some site or other. Turn the machine off and walk away.

      It's not the same if some idiot on a website makes a derogatory comment (true or not), or if a newspaper or magazine (where people expect a degree of research and professionalism) says it. Libel suits should not be allowed against any random idiot because it undermines free speech. The justice system is broken as it is and would never be able to cope with every transgression spoken against someone else. So unless we want to bring back duelling, this should be laughed at and we should move on.

Re:The future of libel (1)

Stickney (715486) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818467)

If we're to expect a degree of research and professionalism from newspapers and magazines, then I need a dueling sword... bring on the journalists!

This would be why... (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817769)

I set up accounts like /. and the like by validating through email accounts in foreign countries that were themselves set up through email accounts in different foreign countries. Of course it's hard to remember to IP spoof every time I post. It's easier just to not be a troll.

Re:This would be why... (0, Troll)

cthulu_mt (1124113) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818053)

I used to think Troll was easy to define until I met Slashdot moderation.

Oh hey (1)

kjzk (1097265) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817803)

Topix.com is the biggest internet freakshow.

Close to the situation! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26817841)

Never heard of Topix (lol Streisand Effect), but I do know the Leshers, personally. Too personally. I once caught Mark Lesher browsing 4chan, and he gave me a goatse to keep me quiet. It was terrible.

Trolling (1)

chadplusplus (1432889) | more than 5 years ago | (#26817877)

Successful troll was successful.

Er, maybe too successful.

Does this mean ... (5, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818047)

...we're going to have to take back everything we've said about CowboyNeal?

I couldn't read the article at Ars Technica (1)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818191)

...there were too many vile, inhumane and disgusting comments distracting me.

error in summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818207)

It is topix.net, and good enough to get some news from, you can ignore all the forum action if you prefer. I use it and google news for my "general" news sources, and drudge for breaking/interesting stuff..

Can you imagine.... (1)

ControversialMatt (1070718) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818237)

...what the result would be if they visited 4chan instead?

Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26818287)

It's about time someone did something about anonymous libel on the Internet. Those cowards have it coming.

I kind of have to agree with the Leshers (2, Informative)

Fooby (10436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818319)

Free speech doesn't give unlimited protection to libel.

Ars Technica (TFA) claims that the judge's order ignores previous rulings, yet the ones it cites are not on point. They involve politicians and business executives.

These involve purported libel of private figures acquitted of a crime.

Good luck getting their ID (1)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 5 years ago | (#26818487)

most trolls use free web mail accounts and use Tor or some other proxy server to hide their IP.

You'll most likely get a list of Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, and GMail accounts and fake names like John Smith and Jane Doe going to proxy server IPs.

If any of those Topix Trolls had any sense, they'd quit trolling and give up their accounts that got them into trouble and generate a new account to avoid being caught, which I suspect they will. Then change the email address of the Topix account they trolled with to biteme@dontsueme.com so when the administrator looks it up, they give that email address to the Judge.

I myself don't use Topix, but there are many other web sites like it, Kuro5hin, IWETHEY, Husi, and a few others come to mind. Trolls on those web sites better watch out and cease and desist before they get sued as well.

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