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Social Law

Where does Free Speech begin—and end—on the internet and what responsibility do businesses, consumers, and the government have to protect it?

Social Law

You may already be following the story about the recent negative Yelp review and subsequent defamation lawsuit that has been circulating online and in mainstream media. Not familiar? ArsTechnica has a fine rundown.

The basic facts are these: a customer left a strongly negative review of her contractor on Yelp leading the contractor to sue for defamation. In a preliminary injunction, the customer was ordered to change her review. This injunction was then overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court and has since inspired a flurry of  conversation about censorship, defamation, free speech and where the three meet. The reversal was celebrated by Public Citizen, which along with the ACLU filed the appeal against the injunction, as a “positive move for free speech on the Internet” but others worry that it may set a worrying precedent for libel.

This is not the first and surely will not be the last attempt to clarify where existing regulation—covering free speech, privacy, ownership or other—can be applied to the internet. We are in an increasingly changing landscape of innovation and social change as people continue to adopt and adapt to this vast communication resource we call the internet. Do we continue determining internet issues on the basis of existing laws or create special regulations? Is this struggle to define the rules of play on the internet the push that inspires a whole new way to regulate civil issues? Time will tell.

For now, this instance of speech stays put.

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