Teen Files $3M Defamation Lawsuit Against Facebook

Dennis Faas's picture

Denise Finkel is suing Facebook, Inc. and four former classmates of University of Albany student for defamation. Finkel claims that comments intended to embarrass and humiliate her were posted on the popular social networking site.

Filed on February 24, 2009 in New York Supreme Court, Finkel states her reputation and character were greatly injured by comments posted in a private group implying she has AIDS, uses drugs, and engages in deviant behavior, like bestiality.

Denise Finkel was a victim of a growing Internet trend called cyberbullying. She is suing both Facebook for $3 million in damages, and the classmates' parents, citing negligence.

Horrific Over-The-Top Discussion

Mark Altschul, Finkel's attorney, said that the comments went beyond normal teasing. He said the horrific discussion on Facebook was 'over-the-top'. (Source: splc.org)

One of the defendants created the group in late January 2007 and included about six members at Oceanside High School on Long Island, New York. Members of the group referred to themselves and other classmates as numbered 'cents.'

Finkel is never named in the group, but the comments and photos reveal that she is referred to as the 'eleventh cent.'

Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act

Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act states that providers of an interactive computer service cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of its users' content, and protects social networking sites like Facebook from liability for their users' content.

Attorney Mark Altschul's claim is that Facebook is more than just a conduit for users' content. When approached with printed pages from the Facebook site, he noticed that each page contained a copyright mark at the bottom. He says the copyright mark represents authorship.

Altschul states that "they are claiming that they are the owner of the page and the author of the page by having the [copyright mark]." In contrast, he pointed out that Google displays a copyright mark on its homepage but not on the pages that contain the search results. (Source: splc.org)

The suit's decision could have massive ramifications for the administration of social networking sites, which in the past have been mostly laissez-faire.

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