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Oct 03

Internet and the rumor mill.

Advancements in telecommunications and the internet have created a perfect storm for internet users to publicly and anonymously partake in character defamation at alarming, breakneck speeds.

Classmates, coworkers, and even strangers have the ability to denigrate and falsely discredit an individual or company at a whim and as the internet develops more and more outlets for social media, discussion boards, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, the list goes on and on.
This kind of behavior only escalates. These acts have been coined “cyberbullying” or “cyberharassment” and have largely been associated with adolescents; however, it would be unjust to only focus on this sample of the population.

The younger age groups do exhibit the behavior more often, yet adults are just as capable. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this new age rumor mill is the speed at which it is delivered and then spread.
Twitter allows its users to post unsubstantiated claims within seconds from their computer, tablet, and mobile device. As a user gains notoriety and more and more followers their tweets become widely disseminated, a dissemination that is only exacerbated if these followers decide to retweet the original poster.

The problem is that, often, there is not adequate due diligence of whether these statements are truthful. Users can find a tweet humorous or entertaining (even if they don’t necessarily believe in its validity) and retweet it. This tweet is then visible to all of their followers. The more retweets a post gets the larger the audience and the more credible the tweet seems.
It’s not rare to find a new, fake celebrity death trending on the homepage of Twitter. From Aretha Franklin to Charlie Sheen, these fake celebrity deaths send the internet into a panic. But what happens when these falsities are no longer playful and actually do real harm? This was the case during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers. Social media users on Reddit and Twitter ran amuck with a story that a missing Indian-American student, who had attended Brown University and disappeared earlier in March, was the culprit based on a grainy camera phone photo taken by a bystander at the marathon. His name, Sunil Tripathi, was trending within minutes. His family had already been suffering from his disappearance and the exhaustion of a failed search party when the internet started to eviscerate his name and image. The family even had to go as far as deleting a Facebook group, which served the purpose of garnering attention about his disappearance, due to the vitriol and hate that begun pouring onto the site.
Unfortunately, Sunil was not the only falsely identified suspect that the internet sought out. This negligence is the new normal. Internet users find comfort in leaving scathing remarks after business services do not live up to their expectations.
Sites like Yelp and Angie’s List have bred a number of internet defamation lawsuits. The sites allow patrons of businesses to review the service(s) they received and leave feedback on their experience. With a company’s reputation on the line, these reviews determine if their business will continue to succeed.

D.C. contractor Christopher Dietz took Yelp review Jane Perez to court over her wounding review of the work he did on her home, which he believed to be untrue. After she wrote that Christopher was a “nightmare of a contractor”, his business suffered.
What about First Amendment rights of Free Speech one might ask…? this might be true and a jury might side with the defendant; however, are a few choice words worth the legal costs they could mean? Today’s internet requires you to choose your words wisely, watch where and who you post to, and do your due diligence into whether a post is satire, truth, or fiction.

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