So who are you talking to when you post online? The world? Or one particular reader? And if I'm talking to the world, am I talking to one particular reader? The Supreme Court of Georgia recently addressed tho·se difficult questions in a case that concerned an alleged online stalker.
Here are the facts , according to the Court. Matthew Chan has a Web site on which he and others publish commentary critical of ,copyright enforce ment practices they consider predatory.Linda Ellis is a poet, and her efforts to enforce the copyright in her poetry have drawn the ire of Chan and his fellow commentators . On his Web site,they have published nearly 2,000 pasts about Ellis, many of which are mean-spirited, some of which are distasteful and crude, and some of which publicize information about Ellis that she would prefer not to be so public. At least one post is written in the style of an open letter to Ellis, referring to her in the second person, and threatening to publicize additional information about Ellis and her family if she continues to employ the practices of which Chan and the other commentators disapprove.
It is undisputed that Chan never caused any of these posts to be delivered to Ellis or othe rwise brought to her attention . But it also is undis puted that Chan anticipated Ellis might see the commentary on his We b site,and he may have even intended she see certain of the pasts, including the open letter to her.
When Ellis did find out about the posts, she sued Chan for injunctive relief under the Georgia stalking statutes , alleging the electranic publication of the posts violated a Georgia statute which forbids one to "'contact" another for certain purposes without the consent of the other. The trial court agreed the eledronic publication of posts about Ellis amounted to stalking, and! it entered a permanent injunction against Chan, directing him to, among other things , delete "'all posts relating to Ms.Ellis" fro m his Web site.
Chan appealed the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court , arguing his activity does not constitute the type of "contact" forbidden by the statute. The Georgia Supreme court agreed with Chan. The key question in the Supreme Court's view was whether writing about a person equates with contacting that person.
The Georgia stalking statute defines '"stalking" as "'contact[ing] another person. . . for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person." In the Court's view, that language requires that "'the communication be directed s pecifically to that other person, as opposed to a communication that is only directed generally to the public." And, based on that view, Ellis couldn't prevail.
The court ultimately ruled: "The limted eviidence in the record shows that Chan and others posted a lot of commentary to his Web site about Ellis, but it fails for the most part to show that the commentary was directed specifically to Ellis as opposed to the public. As written, most of the posts appear to speak to the public,not to Ellis in particular,even if they are about Ellis....The publication of commentary directed only to the public gene rally does not amount to 'contact,' as that term is used in [the statute] and most of the posts about Ellis quite clearly cannot for m the basis for a finding that Chan contacted Ellis. "
In Joseph Heller's novel "'Catch 22". a World War II pilot complains that the Germans are shooting at him. His friend assures him that is not the case,"they're shooting at everybody." Apparently it's similar in Georgia -- when you're talking to everybody,you're contacting no one.