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Digital Defamation: The Hot New Tort?

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By Minara El-Rahman on October 29, 2009 6:50 AM

With social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and gossip sites like Campus Gossip, it is getting easier and easier to ruin a regular person's reputation with just a few keystrokes. While cyber bullying seems pretty harmless to most people, it is actually a serious legal problem.

When you post something online about another person that can ruin his/her reputation, you run the risk of being held liable for digital defamation or libel.

What is exactly is defamation? It is any statement that can hurt a person's reputation, it is false, injurious, published (meaning other people know) and it is unprivileged (it is not said in a deposition, in court chambers, etc).

Defamation is branched out into two other categories known as libel (which is any written statements that can be construed as defamation) and slander (which is any spoken statements that can be construed as defamation).

Digital defamation are any damaging statements that are posted online. Obviously, it is harder to trace digital defamation on anonymous posts, but there are plenty of recent lawsuits that show digital defamation is real. You can see just how anonymity does not protect you in a previous Injured post here.

According to the Hartford Courant, two former Yale Law School students just settled a digital defamation lawsuit. The students claimed that they had been defamed and threatened on the discussion site AutoAdmit by two dozen anonymous posters. The students were able to identify some of the posters and settle with them. One of the students harmed by these posts said that it cost her a legal internship.

On Good Morning America, model Liskula Cohen details her lawsuit where she had to sue Google in order to find out the identity of an anonymous blogger who wrote that she was "psychotic, lying, whoring ... skank." Cohen eventually was able to find out that the blogger was an acquaintance named Rosemary Port. 

You can learn more about Liskula Cohen's case in our previous Injured post here. , and about the countersuit threatened by Rosemary Port in in a  this previous Injured post here.

Cohen, who described herself as a "serial monogamist" and has a "zero tolerance drug policy," said the words were defamatory and harmful to her career. Prospective clients would question her about the blog and what she was doing in the photos, she says. You can check out her video about her ordeal at the link above for GMA.  

These are just a few examples of how devastating and new this tort is. Here are some resources to ensure that you can protect yourself from the same kind of harm:

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