What's so bad about one former cheerleader that Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon, Gawker and BuzzFeed are all teaming up legally against her? She may finally make Websites liable for their content.
Sarah Jones sued a Website called The Dirty in 2012 after it posted her name and a photo, along with a supposed sexual history of both Jones and her ex-husband. Visitors to the site then piled on in the reader comment section.
Jones sued the site's owner, Nik Richie, in December 2012. Richie argued the 1996 Communications Decency Act shielded him from liability for the content of his users' posts. A federal judge hearing the case ruled against Richie, citing other cases where CDA protections were not allowed, often because the site encouraged reader comment.
It went to a jury trial and the jurors found that the posts about Jones were substantially false and that Richie had acted with malice or reckless disregard by publishing the content. The jury awarded Jones $338,000 and Richie appealed. He's asking the 6th Circuit to find that the judge should never have allowed Jones' lawsuit against him, again citing CDA protections. This would nullify the verdict.
This has the big guns nervous. In a brief filed by lawyers representing Facebook, etc., they said "If websites are subject to liability for failing to remove third-party content whenever someone objects, they will be subject to the 'heckler's veto,' giving anyone who complains unfettered power to censor speech."
Richie has lost on every count against the judge who allowed the case to go forward. It's pretty obvious Judge Bertelsman is disgusted by The Dirty, and who can blame him? It's misogynist for the most knuckleheaded bro types, where Richie writes degrading comments about women and then eggs on his readers to pile on. These anonymous posters said Jones had sex with every Bengals player on the team and likely had gonorrhea and chlamydia.
That's common on The Dirty. Women are accused of all kinds of promiscuity, drug use and STD infection judging just by a picture, which are often not very flattering. Jones' lawyer, Chris Roach, told USA Today that Richie reviews all the posts and knows what's on his site. "He's said he's looking specifically for things that will cause a rise. He wants to put dirt out on the Internet about private people," he told the paper.
The Internet is the absolute Wild West for celebrities. Some sites have absolutely no regard for the truth. One comes to mind, I won't give out its name, but it has run absolutely rampant over the years, accusing a Nickelodeon executive of being a pedophile, saying a popular rapper drugged actress Amanda Bynes into her broken down state last year, that singer Britney Spears has HIV and made actress Hayden Panettiere sound like the biggest sexual deviant since Caligula. And the site is hosted on Blogger, which Google owns.
And this is what the First Amendment is for? No. It's not. First off, the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law…." It says nothing about private individuals. And it certainly wasn't created to destroy a person's good name by anonymous cowards.
All the people who will frantically defend The Dirty will go on about rights, but they never go on about responsibility. Not just in free speech but in freedom for anything. The more obsessed people appear to be about rights, the less concerned they seem about the responsibility that goes with it. Just because you have a right to say it doesn't mean you should.
Jones is no angel. She recently lost a teaching job because she had sex with a 17-year-old student, to whom she is now engaged. But that didn't give The Dirty the right to rip into her like that. This case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, and I hope she wins.