Internet Slander/Libel Law Coming To North Carolina?

by William Teach | February 22, 2009 2:02 pm

Back on February 8th, John Hawkins wrote an article How The Internet Damages Our Culture. In it, he wrote

Well, you have individuals from all over the world, who can talk anonymously to people they have no personal connection to and they can say absolutely anything without fear of getting punched in the nose. Put another way, the internet takes away all the factors that keep people from saying the rude things that they may be thinking, but wouldn’t blurt out if they were face-to-face with another human being.

Mostly true. Because there are some things people will say and write about others in the Real World, which is why we have libel and slander laws. Because with Free Speech comes responsibility, and, you just cannot say/write whateverthehell you want about someone else or some entity. If you call someone a pedophile and it is a lie, and the person is damaged, well, they can sue your butt off.

And now it could be coming to the Internet for the State of North Carolina

Law professors tackled the issue of freedom of speech and the internet at a UNC School of Law symposium Friday while the N.C. General Assembly looked at a bill making online posts subject to N.C. libel law.

Harvard Law professor and expert in information law and policy John Palfrey said there is a legal need for online regulation.

“The general impulse to seek to regulate this kind of Internet speech is completely right,” Palfrey said. “We need a sense of accountability in what people say online just as we have in the offline sense.”

The law, S46, can make it an actual class 2 misdemeanor for violation, depending on the severity, and whether the person accused of slander/libel (there is some interesting disagreement on which word applies in what situation, since it is in the cybersphere) apologizes in the proscribed way. You can read the bill for the details, it is rather short and understandable, unlike so many other laws.

Good idea? Bad idea? Personally, I think it is a good idea, if, IF, two things are added on. 1st, there needs to be a way to stop all those who are just so easily offended by everything, as well as people who will frivilously claim to be offended, from constantly demanding apologies. One of the best ways to deal with this is to make sure that the “offended” person actually has standing.

2nd, since this will only apply to North Carolina “sites” and/or residents, there needs to be a way to make sure that someone from another State/country isn’t throwing a tantrum, then slamming the person on a non-NC site.

Overall, I do think it is a good idea. People should be responsible for what they say/write, even on the Internet. What do you think?

Hawkins’ Note: Since you mentioned me, I thought I’d chime in. Personally, I’m a bit confused by what the law does because slander/libel is ALREADY illegal on the web. The example used in the article was of a teacher being knowingly, falsely accused by a website of pedophillia. Well, if you do that right now you can be sued for libel. So, I am scratching my head a little bit. Maybe I can have Ron Coleman[1] take a look at it when he comes on instant messenger and he can explain what they are really aiming at here.

  1. Ron Coleman:

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