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How to Slander Online Now That Google Won't Protect You

slandercartoon1A court case has recently finished that has some significant legal ramifications for how anonymity is treated on the Internet. Last week a judge ordered Google to reveal the identity of a blogger who had been writing unkind things on her blog about Liskula Cohen, a New York model. The unkind things focused on Ms. Cohen's antics while out on the town - I'm told the word "skank" featured predominantly. That this precedent setting decision with First Amendment implications is now widely referred to as the "skank case" is one of the small joys that life sometimes throws your way.

If the decision sticks, this will mean that Internet users can no longer rely on hosting companies and Internet service providers protecting their identity if they post slanderous content on the Web. Before we progress any further, I'll head off the nasally protests from computer-people now: Yes, there's still ways to stay anonymous on the Internet. In this case Google could only give up the email address and IP address the blogger used when using the blog. Someone using free email accounts and proxy severs or public wifi spots to disguise their IP address could still easily remain anonymous. Of course, anyone who understands what all of that meant is going to be a computer-person and, fortunately for us, computer-people almost never have something interesting to say. You know the people I'm talking about. They're always talking about Stargate or anime porn or kernels or some shit. If Robodong42 wants to talk shit about your mama's Python compiler from behind his 256-bit encrypted, TOR-routed, Ukranian bathhouse Internet connection, let him. No one will care.

Assuming then that most people who have something interesting to say won't be able to stay anonymous, what options do they have? Aside from not slandering people, obviously. (What a nightmarish world that would be.) Well, after consulting my lawyer I think I've come up with some handy guidelines you can use when framing your writing, so you can diss as many skanky models as you want without getting in trouble.

slandercartoon2This political cartoon was published in 1794 to protest encroachment upon government authority by sock garter manufacturers. It was considered highly defamatory at the time.

As a framework for this discussion, let me set up the following example. Let's assume I'm writing a column about Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio, within which I plan to reveal several things about him that were perhaps unflattering. How could I frame such a column to avoid the potential of a lawsuit, while still maximizing the comedic value of hurtful lies?

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Guideline #1: It's not slander if it's true.

For example, if I was to say that Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio was a common gutter slut, that would be slander. (There's nothing common about his gutter sluttiness.) But if I were to say Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio was a syphilitic man whore, that wouldn't be slander, because it's demonstrably true. An extensive (and disgusting) public record already exists documenting it.

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Guideline #2: The public has an interest in knowing these facts.

The "truth" defense doesn't always work though. Often courts will demand that there be a "public interest" in you disseminating whatever facts you're trying to spread. For example, if Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio was a threat to young boys and farm animals, which he is, then I could claim my column was a justifiable method of informing the people and livestock of Greenden, Ohio about the threat living in their midst, and also driving around in a blue Toyota Tercel in their midst.

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Guideline #3: Slander must be a statement of fact.

As we like to say around here at Cracked, "The truth value of a statement of opinion is untestable in court." Because opinions can't be proved to be true or false, it's difficult to claim they're slander. Using this guideline, let's say I title my column I think Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio is a Cancer Upon Society.

Obviously the trap here is that when stating an opinion, you almost always want to outline the facts which have caused you to hold said opinion. It's well and good to say that I believe Mr. Moore is a polyp embedded in the rectum of evil, but I won't convince people to take a similar stance unless I back that statement up with some facts. If the facts I enumerate aren't all exactly true, then I could be potentially slandering the shit necked lamb fucker.

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Guideline #4: Even if the statement you made is false, if you made the statement in good faith, believing it's true, you may be protected.

Using our example here, let's say I have good reason to believe Trevor has been collecting foreskin from circumcised infants and fashioning them into a weird little fingerless glove. And let's say I found out about this from a reputable source, like the people at Trevor-Moore-Watch.org. So I go ahead and post it in my column, letting the world know what this frequent highway rest stop visitor was doing. Later we find out that the original story was false; Trevor wasn't making a glove out of all that stolen foreskin, he'd just been hoarding it for unspecified reasons. I would have a pretty strong defense here, simply because I didn't know I was telling a falsehood.

I should point out this is a touchy defense, because I would have to demonstrate I had followed some degree of care here. In this case I would claim that I was using a reliable source. But if the court felt I was being negligent, and deliberately ignoring countervailing facts, I would be up shit creek, just like Trevor Moore, because he bathes there.

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Guideline #5: You cannot defame someone who already has a terrible reputation.

Another defense which has sometimes been used in cases like this is claiming that the plaintiff is incapable of being defamed. If everyone already knew that Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio was a Hitler-esque rape-monster, then it would be impossible for Mr. Moore to claim my column had damaged his reputation. No damages means no lawsuit. Again, I would suggest you be very careful using this guideline. My lawyer says this principle hasn't been tested thoroughly in court.

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Guideline #6: Frame all your hate filled lies as a how-to guide.

If I was to take all the venomous bile I was going to spew against habitual donkey-fister Trevor Moore of Greenden, Ohio, and frame them as "examples" in a comedic piece on how to avoid charges of slander, I'd be perfectly in the clear. "Checkmate," my lawyer confirms. We share a high five.

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