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Monday, February 9, 2009

Texas Couple Files Defamation Suits Against Topix Commenters

A Texas couple is filing libel and defamation suits against posters in a Topix forum concerning their alleged participation in a sexual assault. While the commenters thought they were anonymous, and Topix plans to protect their real identities up to a point, if their comments are found to be libelous, Topix has said it will cooperate with lawyers and divulge their identities.

Nearly 2000 comments were recorded on the topic, many of which were quite explicit and went far beyond the scope of the criminal charges, after the couple (along with another man) were accused of sexually assaulting a woman. Mark Lesher, the husband involved, told The Dallas Morning News, "They were perverted, sick, vile, inhumane accusations," which his lawyer says amounted to "persecution."

A jury found the couple (and the other man) not guilty, but the posters in the Topix forum were not dissuaded. So the Leshers sued 178 anonymous users of the forum and a judge has ordered Topix to turn over the names of those users. The site has until March 6th to comply.

While the First Amendment does allow Freedom of Speech, there are limitations. And while the Leshers were "public figures" due to their involvement in the publicized trial, they were not public figures before and that does not excuse the commenters' libelous actions.

The Cyberculturalist will follow this story's developments.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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