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By Peter S. Vogel
Freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution does not protect anonymous libel and slander posted on the Internet. ABC News reported that on April 20, 2012 a jury in Fort Worth, Texas gave a verdict in favor for Mark and Rhonda Lesher whose 2009 lawsuit was filed against "anonymous commenters who accused them of being sexual deviants, molesters, and drug dealers on Topix, once self-described as 'the country's largest local forum site.'" Following the trial Mark Lesher said:
This vindicates us. This is vindication for all the scurrilous, vile, defamatory statements that caused us to be indicted, to be tried, that caused us to move out of town and my wife to lose her business,...You can't post anonymous lies on the Internet without suffering the consequences.
The Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that the Leshers filed their 2009 lawsuit following their acquittal of sexual assault, but the defendants at the Fort Worth trial posted thousands of anonymous statements on Topix which the jury concluded were slanderous.
The ruling in the Lesher case should be a warning to anonymous posters that they cannot hide behind the First Amendment if they slander others, and a jury may award significant damages for the slander.
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