The Law as an Accomplice
Legal experts, however, emphasized that the law protects Web sites like Topix. Even if the comments are considered defamatory by a court of law, Topix has no legal obligation to take the content down.
Defenders of the legal landscape argue that a change could stifle open discussion and free speech. But others maintain that in stories like this, regardless of who emerges, once the veil of anonymity is lifted, it is the law itself that is a co-conspirator."The law as it currently stands is an accomplice because it creates no incentive whatsoever for Web sites to review or police themselves from content that is potentially devastating to real people and real lives," Michael Fertik, a lawyer who specializes in online defamation, told ABCNews.com.
Part of the problem, Fertik continued, is that laws that made sense at the birth of the Internet age have not matured. It takes years to redress online defamation problems under the present regime. But, in the meantime, libelous comments easily found through search engines can sideline both personal and professional lives.
Although privacy and free speech advocates worry that changes to the law could "chill" online speech, Fertik argued that "the law can easily catch up without destroying speech."But until then?
"The law provides the red dye for the scarlet letter," Fertik said. "It provides the ink for the tattoo that people create on Web sites like this."