Remedies for Web Defamation
by Neville L. Johnson May 2013
The era of anonymous defamation and online impersonation has arrived. Given that the Internet provides virtually unlimited access to information, it is no surprise that claims of defamation and invasion of privacy through this medium have exploded. Unlike in traditional newsprint, where the harmful content is eventually discarded, injury inflicted via online posting continues in perpetuity, causing victims to suffer continuing harm. What, if anything, can a lawyer do to protect a client stung by Web-based bad-mouthing?
At the core of all online liability cases is section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) which states that “no provider … shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another content provider.” This language grants every Internet service provider (ISP) immunity from liability for defamation and invasion of privacy. (47 U.S.C. § 230.) Since the CDA’s passage in 1996, ISPs have been using their section 230 immunity as an affirmative defense against defamation claims, thereby reducing the incentive for self-policing.