Commentary

Craigslist Commenter Charged With Criminal Libel

In what sounds like a throwback to an early century, a Colorado resident has been charged with criminal libel for comments that he made about his ex-girlfriend on Craigslist.

The man, J.P. Weichel, allegedly made posts one year ago suggesting that child protection officials visited his ex-girlfriend because of an injury to her child, according to The Associated Press. And he allegedly wrote that his ex-girlfriend, who is also the mother of his child, traded sex for legal services, the AP reports.

It turns out that Colorado is one of 17 states that has laws criminalizing libel -- or speaking badly of others. And, apparently, the state also has prosecutors with too much time on their hands, who have taken on the task of policing the Web for incivility.

There's no reason Weichel's ex can't pursue a civil damages case against him, but there are many valid reasons why the state authorities shouldn't try to incarcerate people for saying mean things about each other. The most important is that the threat of having to mount a defense to criminal charges can be enough to stop people from voicing completely truthful gripes.

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In fact, the statute itself, which defines libel as tending to "expose the natural defects" of others, appears to criminalize truthful remarks -- even though the Supreme Court has ruled that comments that are true aren't defamatory.

In the Internet's early days, the medium was often referred to as a Wild West, where anything went. But these days, it seems more heavily policed than the offline world. After all, it's still extremely unlikely that Weichel would have faced criminal prosecution for defamation for insulting his ex in the locker room, or a letter to a friend, or, for that matter, any forum other than the Web.

3 comments about "Craigslist Commenter Charged With Criminal Libel".
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  1. James Meskauskas from ICON International, December 3, 2008 at 5:26 p.m.

    "It turns out that Colorado is one of 17 states that has laws criminalizing libel -- or speaking badly of others."

    Actually, libel is the act of WRITING badly of others; or, more legally precise, when defamation is carried out via a public medium, like broadcast, print or out of home.

    Speaking badly of others is called slander.

  2. Joanna Levenglick from Kids News Network, December 3, 2008 at 5:38 p.m.

    People get carried away with how they speak to each other when they are online. For some reason the use of the Internet gives people the false feeling that they can say whatever they want, and not consider how damaging that can be to someone. Using Craigslist as a means to get the word out to bash someone (whether or not what he said is right or wrong), is bad. My concern is, if and how this is damaging to Craigslist. I am sure if this incident took place somewhere else, it never would have become a story. I use Craigslist all of the time, and it has been a wonderful site for many reasons. It is very sad how a Guy who feels that the only way to get back at a former girlfriend is to make a public statement via Craigslist. Don't people have better things to do?
    If there is a problem they should keep it private, and not tell the whole world. The world simply doesn't care because there are more important issues to pay attention to such as; the recession, the market,people losing jobs, and the war. As for Craigslist, again it is a very successful site that has worked well for a lot of people. I am tired of hearing this negative story attached to a site that does good for people.
    As for the Internet being monitored. Unfortuantely, there are bad people out there and just like everything out it has to be monitored. I hope these kind of people who use Craigslist stay away, and just leave it for the people who use it to find help,sell furniture or sublet their apartment.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, December 3, 2008 at 7:39 p.m.

    I strongly disagree with Wendy's laissez-faire attitude toward defamation. The ex-girlfriend is a private citizen with a right to be left alone. Mean talk does real damage, no less than physical abuse. I guess if you think life is like high school, where defamation is OK, then it must seem silly for prosecutors to waste their time. But these laws have real meaning in a CIVIL society, where it is NOT "ok" to slander and/or libel others. Moreover, there are many alimony payments made each year for the sake of "mental cruelty"!

    I'd like to see a few more lawsuits against internet flaming that distorts the truth. It's one thing for me to offer an opinion that Wendy is wrong; it's another to say that she is mentally defective (which I am not implying)..

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