Thursday, December 13, 2012
Internet forums are venues where citizens may participate and be heard in free debate involving civic concerns. It may be said that such forums are the newest form of the town meeting. We recognize that, although they are engaging in debate, persons posting to these sites assume aliases that conceal their identities or "blog profiles." Nonetheless, falsity remains a necessary element in a defamation claim and, accordingly, "only statements alleging facts can properly be the subject of a defamation action Within this ambit, the Supreme Court correctly determined that the accusation on the newspaper site that the plaintiff was a "terrorist" was not actionable. Such a statement was likely to be perceived as "rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet." This conclusion is especially apt in the digital age, where it has been commented that readers give less credence to allegedly defamatory Internet communications than they would to statements made in other milieus. Accordingly, we conclude that this statement constitued an expression of opinion, and, as such, is nonactionable.
Turning to the other posting described in the fourth cause of action, it is not clear on the face of the posting whom the poster was accusing of dumping a horse head in Gail Soro's pool, as the posting is essentially just a cross-reference to the Wawayandafirst blogspot. Since the statements contained on the Wawayandafirst blogspot form the basis of the first and second causes of action, the mere reference to those statements is duplicative of those causes of action.Therefore, the Supreme Court correctly granted that branch of the Skinner defendants' motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the fourth cause of action insofar as asserted against them. (citations omitted)
The horse head allegation was actionable on this basis:
The published allegation that the plaintiff put a severed horse head in a Town Board member's swimming pool constituted defamation per se under this standard and, therefore, did not require the plaintiff to plead special damages. Moreover, the accusation that the plaintiff placed a
horse head in a political rival's pool, if true, describes conduct that would constitute serious crimes. A false published allegation that a person committed a serious crime is also a ground for asserting a cause of action to recover damages for defamation per se, thus relieving the plaintiff from pleading special damages. (citation omitted)