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Have you been slimed on the internet?


By Harry Styron

I have been slimed on the internet by accusations that were completely false, and I don’t like it one bit (I say “don’t” rather than “didn’t” because the false statements are still there for all who look). The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri has indicated that an old legal doctrine (the tort of “false light invasion of privacy”) can be applied to intentional statements on the internet that falsely make a private person look bad.

The opinion, dated December 23, 2008, was in the case Meyerkord v. The Zipatoni Company, which involved the situation of Meyerkord, a former Zipatoni employee, who was listed on a website for web domain registrations, after he was no longer employed by Zipatoni. Meyerkord claimed that his name on the registration was associated with a web domain “www.alliwantforxmasisapsp.com” that received a huge amount of criticism from consumers and bloggers who had strong feelings about that site’s take on Sony Playstations. Meyerkord said that Zipatoni was negligent in not removing his name from the registration, which he had nothing to do with.

The Court of Appeals wrote “[A]s a result of accessibility to the internet, the barriers to generating publicity are quickly and inexpensively surmounted.” Now, at least in the Eastern District of Missouri, courts will recognize false light invasion of privacy claims, if the person posting the statements on the internet (or another public medium) knew or had a good idea  that the statements would put another person in a false light and it would be reasonable to assume that the false light created by the publication would be highly offensive to the person placed in that light.

Under the right facts, a court could order that the offensive information be removed from a current posting on the internet. There are available archives of the internet as it existed at moments in the past, so there’s unlikely to be a way to remove something completely. But it is nice to have a way to fight back.

One who gives publicity to a matter concerning another that places the other
before the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion of
his privacy, if
(a)
the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensive
to a reasonable person, and
(b)
the actor had knowledge of or acted in reckless disregard as to the
falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the other
would be placed.
58. Moreover, the ethical standards regarding the
acceptability of certain discourse have been diminished. Id. Thus, as the ability to do harm
grows, we believe so must the law’s ab
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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

2 responses »

  1. greenwebdesign

    Hello from a random stranger. 🙂

    I found it interesting because I was recently on the other end of this type of situation. I had purchased a service from a company located in another state, they took my money, cashed the check, and a year later still had not delivered and would not return my calls and emails.

    I own several advertising related websites. So, I posted a public notice on all of my most popular websites, stating their company name, which dates and times I had paid, how many times I contacted them, etc. I stated that there had been no response from their company, and I felt like I had been ripped off since I had no service in return for my money.

    It took them a couple months to notice my posts, but when they did, they threatened to sue me for defamation, libel, etc. if I didn’t take them down within 48 hours. I responded that it was just a list of facts, not libel, and if they could prove that they never cashed my check (hard to do when the bank has the cancelled check showing they did), or prove that they provided what I paid them for, or disprove the sent mail I had on my hard drive showing my attempts to contact them, or disprove the phone records that would show I tried to contact them, then they should feel free to try to sue me – but that I would countersue not only for my money, but for all court and lawyer costs.

    Lo and behold – they must have told their lawyer about it exactly as they threatened, because within 2 weeks, they decided to send me a complete refund, and the second the check cleared, I removed all of the posts about them from the Internet. I didn’t want to argue after all, I just wanted them to return my money.

    In this case, the Internet was a wonderful way to publicly shame a company who tried to rip me off. Their customers were searching their name in the search engines and found my story, and they had several people call them to discuss it who threatened to cancel their accounts if they didn’t do the right thing, prompting them to finally make it right because they were desperate for the bad publicity to go away.

    When I posted the ads originally, I was venting and trying to save someone else from getting ripped off the way I had been. I figured it wasn’t enough to go to small claims court for (where I’d be forced to waste extra time and money that I’d never recover) so really, I was just “telling my story to the world” out of sheer frustration. I was surprised and pleased with the outcome, since at the time, I thought my money was gone forever.

    With that in mind, I can see how having false or libelous information posted about you on the internet can haunt you for a long time to come. Even if it’s not true, it will be around forever once the search engines find it, and archiving sites cache it, etc. If the information is left up long enough, then it will start to come up for searches about your business and even for your name.

    You could probably counteract that effect by signing up for social networking websites and making so many other “official” entries for your name, that any other entry would be buried on the 20th page.

    At any rate, hello from a random stranger who found your blog interesting and thought provoking 🙂

    Reply
  2. hank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write this. I appreciate your time and consideration in providing a well written article.

    Reply

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