A key principle that courts use in determining whether someone has been libeled is what damage the offending article did to that person's reputation in his or her community.
Susan Crawford, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York who specializes in media and Internet issues, says the ease with which false postings can be corrected instantly, among other things, will force judges to reconsider how to measure the damage that is done to a plaintiff's reputation.
“Libel law depends on having a reputation in a particular town that's damaged,” she says. “Do you have an online reputation? What's your community that hears about the damage to your online reputation? Who should be sued? The original poster? Or someone like the Wonkette, for making something really famous? The causes of action won't go away. But judges will be skeptical that a single, four-line (posting in a) blog has actually damaged anyone.”
Judges have indicated that they will give wide latitude to the type of speech being posted on the Internet. They usually have cited the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects website owners from being held liable for postings by others. On the other hand, under that statute, individuals who post messages are responsible for their content and can be sued for libel. That applies whether they are posting on their own website or on others' message boards.