Thursday, February 19, 2009

using facebook as a weapon

Here's a hypothetical situation. My name is Marlene and I live in the small rural town of Bethesda, Ohio. The population of our community is about 600. Being part of small town America, everyone pretty much knows everybody. About 2/3 of the townspeople have internet access and the majority are connected via facebook. We all monitor each others status and frequently discuss local politics and future events. In many ways, interest in facebook and its related groups (Bethesda bowlers, gardening club, etc.) has surpassed the popularity of the local newspaper. The instantaneous nature and accessibility to information via facebook just seems like a better way to keep in touch.
Recently, my best friend Annie Thompson was the victim of a physical assualt. Her alcoholic husband Jim came home violent and drunk. He punched her several times leaving her with 2 bruises and a broken nose. Annie fled the house and came to my home in tears. She told me the whole story and I decided to exact my own form of revenge upon her asshole husband Jim. I got on the computer, went to my facebook page and posted the following as my status update...

"Jim Thompson beat his wife, gave her a sexually transmitted disease and has engaged in acts of bestiality." Actually, you could write just about anything with the insinuation of child pornography or molestation and BOOM, it's all over. Maybe a drugged date rape accusation or so and so is a heroin junkie. The possibilities are endless - you get the drift.

Rest assured, all this is merely hypothetical but I assure you this is a highly plausible scenario. This is a vicious attack with little or no recourse. After all, it could be a reference to some other Jim Thompson. I could argue that someone else knew my password and posted it. You could go the freedom of speech route.
My point - I think you'll see a rise in frivolous litigation concerning these matters. What if I decided to start an internet facebook club entitled, "Here is a list of the names and addresses of sexual predators in Bethesda, Ohio." Hell, I got my information form a govt. website and was just trying to fulfill my civic duty.

Something very similar happened in Wheeling in the pre-internet days (early 1990's). Does anyone remember when a vindictive individual spray painted a message about how another person "raped her son" on a vacant building wall next to a local church. I'm sure that made for some interesting conversation amongst the churchies at Sunday brunch.

Here's the point of all this. There's going to have to eventually be some global acceptance that when it comes to libelous/slanderous (via webcams) online activity, the perpetrators will increasingly not be held liable. You'll be able to say anything or post anything with absolute impunity. In a world that increasingly relies on the world wide web as a reliable source for information and the non-stop level of accompanying litigation, it seems as though these two forces will soon collide. For the most part, they already have. I suspect we'll see a tipping point in the near future. When the interent surfaced 10 years ago, it was hailed as the World Wide Web. WWW is an acronym for the wild wild west???? Wild, wild west - that's the global understatement of the millenium.

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