Okay. Fine. I will admit it. I made the name blogfamation up, but people combine words all of the time for fun and profit. For me it this is really more an amusement. You see I have a online buddy, Corinne Tampas over at What's Your Authority, who, like me, gets a kick out of scouring the blawgosphere looking for possible overlooked legal niches. Corinne is a little bit better at it than I because she is a legal researcher and writer, and as such she tends to fall across these issues more easily. We do not necessary look for practices areas that have not been tried, but rather those that are not well positioned or not well identified. We look for sub-practice areas at which some attorney should be able to make a full time living if he or she wished. Anyway, this is more Corinne's discovery than mine but, for better or worse, I made up the word.
Hence, blogfamation. Either bringing or defending defamation suits because of all the crap and careless trash talking on the web. Some have called cyberlible. Let us face facts. Real or not, truths or untruth, fact or fiction, gossip and rants spread across the web like wildfire. Sometimes people are hurt. Sometimes people are not hurt but think otherwise. Sometimes people and companies are unduly helped by this wrong information.
There are sites the touch on this phenomena. Dan Abrams help launch Gossip Cop recently, it which the site states that it is "Busting bad dish!" There is FactCheck.Org. It is a problem that even the best organizations have to fight. Now Public recently reported that Wikipedia, for example, is changing how members contribute to online articles. Under its old system, anyone could write and edit an article without revision, but under the new system articles about organizations and people will have to be fact checked by an editor before it is published. There are sites that try to alert you and help you repair your online reputation. One is called Reputation Advocates. Another is Reputation Defender. IRM Consultants claim to "neutralize negative publicity" on the web. Of course, negative publicity is not the same as defamation, and consultants are not law firms.
There are some law firms that dabble in this area, as well as other practice areas, such as Kroneenberger / Burgoyne. The Nissenbaum Law Group has a blog
on the subject, but with most of these firms this is just one of many practice areas in which
this subject matter can get lost. For most online defamation is a sideline for technology lawyers and law firms, but defamation falls
more in tort than it does in little tech disputes. Other defamation lawyers are more broad based than this. Nobody nationally or locally is really the blogfamation expert that I can see. Few limit their practice to this area.
Presently, you see this problem in everyday life. Clarksville, Texas attorney Mark Lesher and his wife filed a defamation lawsuit against anonymous posters on the Internet forum Topix. They were just unmercifully trashed by a bunch of posters as they were charged in a what can only be considered a frivolous criminal charge of sexual assault in which they were summarily acquitted.
A Florida woman was awarded $11.3 million in a defamation lawsuit against a Louisiana woman who posted messages on the Internet accusing her of being a "crook", "con artist" and a "fraud".
Bloggers sued by Anna Nicole's mother have been going to jail, not because of any potential defamation but because, in one case, they failed to follow court orders, such as turning over computers for inspection.
Most of us read where Sarah Palin's lawyer threatened to serve libel papers on a blogger at a local kindergarten where the blogger worked. That was probably a bit unnecessary and a represented a little too much grandstanding, but the blogger speculated on whether Palin had marital problems that might be leading to a divorce between Palin an her husband. This represented an unproven or unsubstantiated rumor.
I do not know if Sarah Palin is right or wrong in pursuing these matters. After all, she is a public figure. Also, she starts plenty of these kind of unsubstantiated rumors herself, such as coining the phrase, it seems, "Obama death panels". But, the point is that rumors, some damaging, can be rampant on the Net. People and companies do not like it and they want to pay someone a lot of money to vindicate themselves.
The situation is not always helped with the proliferation of so-called "gripe sites". Some are more general, such as Ripoff Reports. But, others have more specific targets, such as ScrewPayPal.Com, FarmersInsuranceGroupSucks.Com, and ChaseSucks.Com. MyVWLemon.Com boasts 2,000 members and 15,000 message board postings from VW buyers. You can find a ongoing list of these on WebGripeSites.Com. How long these sites will stay up before being removed is anybody's guess, but whether someone has a grievance or not, does not mean all of the statements posted on these sites are correct or innocent. Public Citizen tends to get a lot of criticism itself, but it has been know to defend the existence of grip sites. You have to think that when those griped about gripe about gripe sites it is often called litigation.
The question is which one of you is going to become the first lawyer known exclusively as the blogfamation expert in your area?