Legal Guide for Bloggers
“Can You Libel Someone on Twitter?”
1. Here’s a hypothetical situation: An angry student has posted several statements about me on a Com201 Facebook page. After she posted them, the UW suspended me without pay pending an investigation into these statements. I believe that her defamatory statements are not true. If I’m harmed because of them, I’m planning to go to court and to sue the student for libel. I will seek damages – money – to offset the harm that she’s done to me. Which of her statements, which are below, might be the basis of a successful libel judgment in my favor – a judgment that would require her to pay me damages? Here’s what she posted:
“Don’t ever take Com201 from Beam. (a) First, he plays favorites in grading by giving higher grades to students from Washington. (b) A friend also told me that he regularly propositions students when they come to see him during office hours. (c) He gave way too many assignments in the course. (d) Basically, I just think he’s an incompetent teacher.”
In your responses on the study guide, just type 1-a, 1-b, 1-c, 1-d and say either “yes,” indicating the statement could be the basis for a successful libel judgment against the student, which would force her to pay me damages, or “no,” indicating that it’s unlikely that the statement could be a basis for a successful libel judgment against the student. Just to be clear, I’m asking you to evaluate each statement independently – not all the statements as a group. Though you don’t need to put this in your study guide, you should know what legal principles that you’ve read about apply to your decisions on each of the statements. That is, you should be able to explain why you think that they would or would not be the basis for a successful libel judgment.
2. The story below about Zacchery Fogerson appeared in The Seattle Times, a local newspaper, last January. It’s clearly harmful to Fogerson’s reputation. And at the time it was published, a court had not determined the former player’s guilt or innocence. So why could The Times publish that story without much concern that the paper would be subject to a libel lawsuit against it by Fogerson? You can answer in one or two sentences. Here’s the story:
Former University of Washington football player Zacchery Fogerson is being held in connection with a robbery on the UW campus Monday night.
An 18-year-old student walking through campus was robbed at gunpoint around 10:30 p.m. Monday, according to UW police. Fogerson, 20, of Kent, was arrested by UW police shortly after the robbery.
According to a statement of probable cause, UW police stopped Fogerson as he was driving off campus in a car with its headlights turned off. A silver revolver and the student’s purse and wallet were found in the car, according to King County prosecutors.
He is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail, but has not been charged.
“Facebook and Twitter Crack Down on Hate Speech.” PBS Newshour Extra.
3. Government agencies in the United States have not tried to force Twitter or Facebook to limit hate speech, but the governments in France and Germany have pressured Twitter to block tweets that it has deemed offensive. Why is Twitter treated differently by France and Germany than it is in the United States? What prevents the U.S. government from insisting that Twitter block offensive comments here? Answer in one or two sentences.
“Media/Society” text, Chapter 3
“FCC Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts.” FCC.
4. In previous readings, the text authors have introduced the concepts of “structural constraints” and “agency.” When it comes to government regulation of the media, what entity or entities provide structural constraints? And whose agency is limited by these structural constraints? You can answer each question with a phrase.
5. Provide a brief definition of the term “prior restraint.” In your definition, be clear who would be doing the restraining. (You may need to draw off of the independent research you were asked to do in the Tegrity video to help with this definition.)
6. People and organizations that prefer relatively little regulation of the media – your text calls them “supporters of deregulation” – usually assert that regulation just isn’t needed. Why do they say that? Answer in two or three sentences.
7. Why do people and organizations that support more extensive regulation of the media believe that it’s essential? What do they hope that regulation will ensure? Answer in two or three sentences.
Controversies about media regulation often arise because the political, legal, social or economic goals of different groups or individuals are in conflict. For example, you read an article about hate speech on Twitter. Twitter initially refused to release the identities of individuals who the French government believed were engaging in hate speech. Twitter had a goal of protecting the privacy of all individuals who use its service, and it apparently believed that disclosing those identities would undermine that goal. The French government, on the other hand, had a goal of enforcing its laws against hate speech. It wanted those names to carry out its social and legal mandate to discourage hate speech. In this example, the goals of preserving individual privacy and discouraging hateful public expression are in conflict or are in tension with each other.
For the controversies below, briefly describe the nature of the controversy or conflict. Who are the people or groups involved in the conflict – that is, the main parties to the conflict? What’s at the heart of their disagreement? What goals are in tension with each other? In some cases, the text may not explicitly describe the nature of the conflict. You may have to draw inferences from what you’ve read. Answer in three to four sentences per question.
8. Controversy over copyright. (For this question, first define copyright in one sentence and then use another three to four sentences to discuss the conflict.)
9. Controversy over regulation of content on broadcast television and radio by the FCC. (For this question, first describe what broadcast content the FCC regulates and then use another three to four sentences to discuss the conflict.)
10. Controversy over net neutrality. (For this question, first define net neutrality and then use another three to four sentences to discuss the conflict.)
“Legal Guide for Bloggers.” Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Facebook and Twitter Crack Down on Hate Speech.” PBS Newshour Extra. June 24, 2013.
“Can You Libel Someone on Twitter?” slate.com. Nov. 26, 2012.
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