As the target of a local a cyber griper, I have taken interest in reading about cyber activities taken against individuals and businesses. The activities can range from posting complaints on review websites all the way to creating websites for the purpose of complaining about a person or a business. Just last month, Jicheng “Kevin” Liu, a reportedly prolific burglar suspected in some 90 burglaries in the Chicago area, was also reported to be a prolific cyber-stalker. His cyber activities included: (1) the destruction of an eBay business through flooding consumer websites with complaints about the owners of the business; (2) targeting the professional and criminal reputation of two persons he wrongfully believed caused his arrest; and (3) running on-line ads claiming an accuser of his performed acts of prostitution out of her home.
In this day and age, the internet is largely replacing print media and persons often resort to search engines to find out information about a person or business they may be considering for a particular job or business opportunity. As a result, anyone with a keyboard and access to the internet may have the ability to affect the online reputation of a person or a business. With little regulation and oversight, the internet is ripe for abuse and vigilantism. This is exactly why a niche business has been established for protecting your on-line reputation. In fact, there is website dedicated to anti-bullying and internet safety.
From the perspective of the civil arena and assuming the allegations about Mr. Liu’s cyber activities are accurate, the line into defamation has easily been crossed. The more difficult questions arise when persons offer “opinions” about a person or a business. As a result, courts often have to balance freedom of speech against reputation. Over the next couple of weeks, we will take a look at these issues and how the courts are handling them.