The web has created a new medium for people to speak and trade information. One needs only look at the current state of newspapers to know how big of an impact this development has been. That being said, many people are not aware there can be legal ramifications regarding what they say when posting in forums. Yep, you could get sued.
Forums and boards are a place of free flowing ideas. This is particularly true since people can post using anonymous titles and avatars. Once anonymity is believed to be achieved, any common sense prohibition against saying inflammatory things seems to go by the wayside. This is a mistake. There is little or not anonymity on the web if someone or a company wants to find your true identity. Let's take a look at a common situation.
A debate is taking place on a forum about the merits of some product from Company X. You don't own the product nor have you ever tried it. You have, however, owned another product from the company. It was cheap and didn't perform as you expected. As a result, you post on the board this new product is a piece of junk and of low quality. You pop offline and think nothing else of it.
Two months later you get a notice in the mail. It is from the company with the forum. Company X has sued and the court has ordered the forum to turn over your profile information and your IP address. You have 10 days to appear in court to object or the forum will have to comply. Now you have a big problem.
Posting in a forum does not relieve from the threat of liability. For better or worse, you can still be sued for anything from character assassination to invasion of privacy to...well, anything that you can be sued for in the brick and mortar world. Laws in the physical world apply to the virtual world as well.
Ah, but what about anonymity? Well, you leave a trail when you post online. Many people assume that they will be okay as long as they don't put their true name, address and whatever on the forum profile. Wrong. A company will sue the forum for your IP information. It is recorded when you sign up. They will then track backwards to the company controlling said IP and get a court order forcing the company to reveal who has the account.
You are probably thinking this is a lot of work to just find someone who posted something on a board. You're right. However, many companies now take reputation management seriously. They have lawyers on staff whose sole job is to do this. Whether they bring 5 or 50 actions makes no major difference from a cost perspective. More and more companies will be taking this step as well in the future as they try to protect their reputation.
So, should you not post in forums? Of course not. You need to simply be careful. Truth is a defense to any defamation claim. If you wouldn't say it in public, don't say it on a forum.
Thomas Ajava writes for FindAnAttorneyforMe.com - where you find more internet law articles.
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