I posted a little over a week ago about the jury verdict in the Sarah Jones case. Ms. Jones is the former BenGal cheerleader who won a six figure defamation verdict against thedirty.com. Not surprisingly, thedirty.com has appealed.
The major issue in the case is the trial court’s decision denying thedirty’s motion to dismiss the case. Thedirty contended that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – which says Web site operators are not considered the publisher of content posted on the site by third parties. The trial court judge concluded that the very nature of thedirty meant that it invited defamatory content. And so the site “encouraged what is offensive about the content.” In the trial court’s view, that made thedirty responsible for the third party content.
In my post, I noted that just because thedirty solicits “dirt” doesn’t mean it’s looking for false information. Case in point? The new (sad, pathetic, revolting –choose one) revelations about former Congressman and New York City Mayor candidate Anthony Weiner. In case you missed it, the mainstream media got the story from thedirty.com – where the new texts were posted.
As you can see from the link, Nik Richie, the owner of thedirty is asking other women who’ve received texts or photos from Anthony Weiner aka “Carlos Danger” to come forward. Is Richie soliciting dirt here? Yep. Is it newsworthy? You be the judge – but where someone resigns from Congress for inappropriate sexting, purports to have changed his ways, but goes back to the exact same conduct while running for mayor – it sure seems like it to me. And the final question – is any of the material defamatory? Uh, no. Unlike the last time – when then Congressman Weiner said his Twitter account had been hacked – in this instance, Weiner is admitting the texts are genuine.
The CDA isn’t perfect – nothing is. But the freedom the law gives Web site operators makes it much more likely that stories like this one will not get buried. The ruling in the Sarah Jones case puts this freedom at risk.