If bloggers and other social media posters need a reminder that they can be held accountable for their online musings, a $600,000 jury verdict against an online poster in Georgia is such an example.
As reported by the LaGrange Daily News, the jury found Ronald J. McClellan liable for comments he posted on this blog and in the comments section of the newspaper's website insulting community activist and then-Troup County Board of Commissioners chairman Richard C. Wolfe, and accusing him of embezzlement, fraud, and corruption.
As a public official, Wolfe had to show that McClellan made his comments with “actual malice,” meaning that either he knew that the statements were untrue or that he published them with “reckless regard” for whether the comments were true or not.
Before the case reached the jury, the judge held that McClellan had made his comments “without one scintilla of evidence,” and that he had thus made them with “reckless disregard of whether such statements were false or not.” This left the jury to determine only the amount of damages to be awarded.
McClellan, who represented himself at trial, said that he will appeal.
In his testimony, McClellan said that he is unemployed and has only $38. Wolfe said that he did not expect to collect the damage award, but that he sued to make a point. But McClellan told the Daily News that he would continue to criticize Wolfe.
While the lesson of the verdict may be lost on the defendant, it does provide a lesson for anyone who posts online: you can be held legally and financially responsible for what you post. Just a friendly reminder.
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- Directors' and Officers' Liability [US]