Olivera Medenica was recently quoted in an article on The Verge, discussing online defamation, a June decision by the Illinois Supreme Court, and its aftermath.
The case at issue involves a four-year legal saga that began in 2011, when an anonymous and allegedly defamatory online comment was posted under a newspaper article regarding Bill Hadley, an attorney and politician who was then running for a Stephenson County Board seat.
While defamation laws vary from state to state, they generally require a plaintiff to show: (1) a defendant made a false statement about the plaintiff; (2) the defendant made an unprivileged publication of that statement to a third party; and, (3) the publication caused damages.
The burden of proof varies depending on the status of the plaintiff as a public or private figure. Because public figures are often subjected to public scrutiny their hurdle is higher in showing a defendant’s statement is actionable. Because a private figure does not face such scrutiny, their threshold for liability is lower.
Under the Communication Decency Act, a provider or user of an interactive computer service is not treated as a publisher or speaker of information provided by another information content provider. As in the case discussed below, an online newspaper and its parent company is not liable for the comments of a poster on its site.