In my last post I covered just a few examples of the recent "trend" of treating defamation as a crime.
As you might expect, defamation is considered to be a crime in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries. It is also a crime in some European countries, like Italy, for example. What is surprising is that in some states in the U.S. defamation may be treated as a crime, albeit rarely. But recently a Colorado man was criminally charged with defamation over statements he allegedly made about his former lover on Craigslist. So this got me to thinking . . . why is this happening?
The reason is simple. It's the Internet, stupid.
More and more people are using the Internet to conduct business and share ideas and information than ever before. The Internet allows people to discuss, and some cases, gripe about topics they would never dare speak about in public. It leads people to mistakenly believe that (1) they are truly anonymous on the web, and (2) that the Internet deserves additional protection under the First Amendment over other medium of expression. This view of the Internet encourages stupid behavior, or defamation.
And courts haven't helped the situation very much, either. Until very recently, they have consistently interpreted laws in such a way that is overly protective of speech. Don't think that's possible? Wait until your business is defamed and you can't do anything about it and you'll understand.
Without an adequate civil remedy to right a wrong, people will get creative. Some people will hire an expert in SEO and engage in black hat tactics, while others, like prosecutors, will charge a person with a crime. Who knows? Perhaps people will engage in self-help (read violence) to address defamation on the net.
The point is: if we do not provide a meaningful way to address alleged instances of defamation on the Internet in a civil context, prosecutors and others will find a way.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Should defamation be treated as a criminal offense and/or a civil remedy? Should governments regulate the Internet? How so? If not, why not?
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