What Fresh Hell Is This?

June 22, 2015

Something To Watch - In New Kensington-Arnold

Usually when I write about something happening in New Kensington (which is rare, I'll admit) I'm usually writing about the litigation revolving around the Ten Commandments monument there.

This is not one of those times.

An astute reader this weekend emailed to me this link from the Tribune-Review.  It opens with this:
“Palloneville” is apparently no more.

The political blog focusing on the New Kensington-Arnold School District was taken down not long after a school board member filed a lawsuit this week accusing an anonymous poster of making false and potentially damaging statements about him.

The Valley News Dispatch reported the lawsuit filed by Patrick Petit in Thursday's edition. The site was found removed that same day; it was not clear exactly when it had been taken down.

Petit has been a supporter of Superintendent John Pallone and his brother, school board President Bob Pallone.
Here's the Valley News Dispatch's original reporting.

What piqued my interest was the fact that the story's about a political blog.  Let me just say that until I was emailed the link, I'd don't remember ever reading Palloneville or even knowing about its existence.  I've also not read the lawsuit so I can't comment on its contents (though if someone wants to email it to me, I'll certainly take a look at it).

And obviously, I'm not a lawyer.

All I can do at this point is to perhaps add a little context to the discussion.  From the Trib:
[Patrick Petit's attorney David] Millstein said a poster using the pseudonym “Valley Proud?” falsely accused Petit of embezzlement. The litigation aims to identify the person behind the April 29 post.
Here's the google cache for the comment mentioned in that April post.   And here's that section of Valley Proud?'s comment that we seem to be talking about:
Pat Petit- Simply put, embezzler of money from the district (busses for ar ken) ar-ken destroyer, throwing under the bus and gettin rid of Frank cambell (remember him) for things he did and ordered, and possibly responsible for the fence around the fence around the fence at the ” sport complex” so only his ” prestigious football tem” can use the MULIT- purpose field. And to top it off.. Head of finance committee for the board.. A crook in charge of money. Talk about a Pallonemoron. [All spelling errors in original]
And now we see the problem.  The Digital Media Law Project has a pretty good general set of criteria for defamation.  Basically, a statement has to be something other than an opinion and it has to be false and it has to damage someone's reputation for it to be defamation.  If, for example, Valley Proud? felt that Pat Petit is an asshole and simply said so, there'd be no cause for the lawsuit.  Same goes if the charge is demonstrably true or if the charge doesn't damage a reputation.

But VP? didn't.  VP? wrote that Petit was an embezzler - twice.  I don't need to remind anyone that embezzling is a very serious crime.  The fact that VP? made the charge without any evidence backing it up is probably where Valley Proud? might get into a little trouble.  If you're going to charge someone with a felony you really need to back that up with something substantial.

The owners of Palloneville are probably protected from whatever legal trouble Valley Proud? might be facing.  From DMLP:
If you have web forums, allow reader comments, host guest bloggers on your site, or if you repost information that you receive from RSS feeds, you generally will be shielded from liability for defamatory statements made by your users and guests under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("Section 230"). This important federal law protects you from certain types of liability, including defamation, associated with the statements and other user-submitted content you publish on your site.

Section 230 grants interactive online services of all types, including blogs, forums, and listservs, broad immunity from liability so long as the information at issue is provided by a third-party.
So the decision to pull down the entire blog points in another direction.

From the Trib:
“The goal is to determine the identity of the people accusing my client of a crime and hold them accountable for it,” [Millstein] said. “There's nothing wrong with any kind of blog as long as the people are responsible in what they say.

“When they cross a line into baseless defamation that's going to harm, they're going to be held accountable for it.”
Unless I am reading this wrong, Millstein is looking for whatever info left on the blog from the commenters in order to track them down and hold them "accountable" for the defamation of his client.  And although it might be a tad too post hoc ergo propter hoc, it looks like Palloneville was pulled down in response (seems to be a bit of an over reaction, but who am I to say?)

But perhaps I am missing some important information regarding this story.

Am I?

Feel free to email in whatever you think I've missed.  If there's an update to be made, I'll make it below.

I've turned off the comments for this post, by the way.  Given the nature of the discussion, I thought it the best course of action.