|FINDING LIMITS IN CYBERSPACE|
Online, does everything go?
September 8, 1997
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Questions answered in this forum: Will independent cyberjournalists have access to political sources? Shouldn't cybernauts just trust their own judgement? Could newsgroup posts be considered libelous? Could libel suits squelch freedom of speech online? Should libel laws be updated to reflect the digital age? Viewer comments on online credibility
August 28, 1997
The NewsHour reports on questionable news on the 'Net.
December 25, 1996
A panel discussion on how the Internet fared in 1996.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of cyberspace and law.
The U.C.L.A Online Institute for Cyberspace Law and Policy.
The Online NewsHour asks:
Could the Drudge Report case lead to the legal precedent that those who post to Internet newsgroups or e-mail lists could be open to libel charges? Or are they already open to such suits?Steve Geimann of the Society of Professional Journalists responds:
Many professional journalists see online as an extension of the published and broadcast world, even though for some the editorial process is missing. For right now, I think we should operate from the point that what we post on the Internet is subject to the same rules as in the published domain, and communicate accordingly. Private conversations aren't always private; someone who gets a copy of your personal message could easily resent or repost information to someone else, making it public. Whispers on a street corner don't exist on the Internet. It is, instead, a big town hall meeting, a universal soap box, and those who enter that world should know they could have their words beamed far beyond the audience they originally intended to reach. Perhaps the legal system needs to consider this as case law is established, and the harsh penalties imposed on the published word would be tempered when the comments were made in a private conversation. For the moment, it appears existing libel laws will take precedence and some lawyers are already operating on that basis. I think we should be aware of that we we engage in online discussions.
Prof. Margaret Jane Radin responds:
To the best of my understanding, those who post to newsgroups or e-mail lists are indeed open to libel charges if what they post is defamatory. Libel involves false injurious statements that are published. Publishing means communicating to others besides the one defamed. Posting to a newsgroup or e-mail list would be publication. Most of the debate regarding cases of alleged online libel is not over whether the person posting the defamatory statement would be liable, but rather whether liability would extend to the online service provider (e.g., Prodigy, AOL). That's who the plaintiff would like to sue, of course, because, for one thing, the person posting the message might be anonymous or not to be found, and, for another thing, the online service provider is likely to have deeper pockets.
Will libel suits squelch free speech online?