What Would Will Do?

Published: May 21, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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According to today’s Wall Street Journal, in 2008, “Shellee Hale of Bellevue, Wash., posted in several online forums about a hacker attack on a company that makes software used to track sales for adult-entertainment Web sites. She claimed that personal information of the sites’ customers was compromised.

“About three months later,” the Journal wrote, “the software company — which contends that no consumer data were compromised — sued Ms. Hale in state court in New Jersey, accusing her of embarking ‘on a campaign to defame and malign the plaintiffs’ in chat-room posts.

“In her legal response, Ms. Hale, 46 years old, claims she is covered by so-called shield laws that protect reporters from suits, because she was acting as a journalist and was investigating the hacker attack while researching a story on adult-oriented spam.”

I have often cautioned friends and others not to be careful, but to be VERY careful about anything they put online.  Once you post, text, TweetFacebook, link or otherwise send anything into the World Wide Web, it’s out there forever!

Before posting the cartoon at the top of this piece I consulted the “use policy” on the cartoon’s web site and have sent an e-mail to the artist to make sure I have met all the use requirements.  I’ve done this with other political cartoons that I’ve used.  Over the last 15 months that this blog has been running, I have found cartoons that I would have liked to use, but because of the timeliness of the piece and the reality of not hearing back from the artist or writer in time with their permission, I chose to use other photos rather than engage in potential copyright violation.

The Journal article points out, “In 2007 – the most recent data available – 106 civil lawsuits against bloggers and others in social networks and online forums were tallied by the Citizen Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, up from just 12 in 2003. There have been about $17.4 million in trial awards against bloggers to date, according to the Media Law Resource Center in New York, a nonprofit clearinghouse that tracks free-speech cases.”

Further, “The number of blogger lawsuits is likely to keep rising as the number of people who post online continues to grow, says Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center and a media-law attorney. Social-networking sites such as LinkedInFacebook and MySpace — which is owned by News Corp. the parent company of The Wall Street Journal — and micro-blogging services like Twitter are making it easy for impetuous remarks to reach thousands of users in a matter of minutes.

“In March, fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir sued rocker Courtney Love for libel in Los Angeles Superior Court, accusing Ms. Love of posting disparaging remarks about the designer on Twitter and MySpace.”

My advice:  If you are planning on saying something nice about someone, go for it.  If it is not nice, or hyper-critical, think again, and make very sure you have your facts straight.


  1. Author

    This post made me think about how dangerous it truly is to put anything on the web. Those pictures you posted one drunk night, or that rant you tweeted last year will come back to bite you!

    Most people have Facebook accounts and post everything about themselves from where they work to naked pictures. No matter how many safety measures you take or think you’re taking, someone out there can hack into your accounts, email, medical files and more. If you put something online you have to be ready for anyone and everyone to see it and have access to view it.

    The example in your post is a perfect scenario of someone learning the hard way how dangerous it is to put your personal information and life adventures online.

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