Devil in the Details

A plaintiff named Keyonna Ferrell recently failed in her efforts to hold Google and Yahoo liable for defamation.  There were many reasons why she failed, but the most glaringly obvious one is that she simply failed to allege that Yahoo or Google said anything about her that was false.  And she failed in pretty much record time.  She filed her complaint on June 2, and the court tossed it on July 31.  That is the judicial equivalent of a nanosecond.   

In fact, neither search engine really said anything at all.  Ferrell claimed she was defamed because images of her that she’d removed from Pinterest continued to be accessible via Google and Yahoo after she had removed the images from Pinterest.   But Ferrell never alleged that the images conveyed any false information.  And that doomed her case.  

A defamation plaintiff has to establish that information published about him or her is, first and foremost, untrue.  We can say whatever terrible things we wish about someone and be free from liability so long as our facts are straight.  Ferrell seemed to gloss over this detail.  In short, she made it easy for the court to toss her suit.   

But even if she had alleged that the Pinterest images were somehow “false” it’s pretty clear that Yahoo and Google would not have been liable.  Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act provides that interactive computer service providers (Yahoo and Google qualify) are not considered publishers of content supplied by third parties.  So I can’t see how Ferrell could have prevailed in any event.  

What Ferrell really seemed to want was a court ruling that she had a “right to be forgotten” – that is, once she took the information down, she was entitled to be free from it.  But no one is entitled to such relief.  The court did the right thing in kicking this case out almost as soon as it was filed.