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The Cost of Internet Defamation

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In our kids ears and out of their mouths -- and now, on to their social networking sites!

That may not be exactly what happened in the case of Patrick Snay, former headmaster of Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, Florida, but it is eerily similar.

After his contract was not renewed in 2010, he sued the school for age discrimination. In November 2011, the case was settled for $80,000 with a confidentiality agreement. Unfortunately, Snay shared this confidential information with his daughter.

She decided to take the information and share it on her Facebook page, stating, "Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT."

Within a short amount of time this post leaked back to Gulliver School officials and a letter went to the Snays' attorney stating that Snay had broken a confidentiality agreement and that he would not be receiving the $80,000 settlement.

In the same week another news story broke.

A student in New South Wales took to Twitter and Facebook with a grudge against a teacher. His comments on Twitter were considered defamatory and he was ordered to pay $105,000 in damages to the teacher.

With the electronic frontier evolving, online defamation has reared an ugliness that has ruined lives both emotionally and financially. As the above stories indicate, no one is immune to Internet defamation; it can happen at any age for both the defendant and the plaintiff.

I would venture to say that as the Internet expands, so will these types of lawsuits. We have already seen an influx of attorneys that now specialize in Internet law.

We teach our children about digital citizenship, building their online reputation, thinking before they post and, above all, treating everyone with kindness online and offline -- but are we educating them about the risks of Internet defamation?

Freedom of speech does not condone defamation. It is that simple, yet it is still difficult since proving defamation can be a long and tedious, not to mention costly, task.

Understanding slander, libel, and defamation can be confusing for the average person, but what is clear is the emotional and sometimes financial harm that it can cause. It is imperative we teach our children about digital citizenship, and that their words can affect the lives of others.

• Every keystroke matters; they are public, permanent and some can be costly.
• Never post when you are angry.
• Never send emails or text messages when you are upset, wait 24 hours.
• Writing a negative review can be acceptable, however it doesn't have to be mean -- choose your words wisely. Constructive criticism can actually help businesses.
• Become a cyber-mentor and always know you are a role model.

As both a victim and survivor of Internet defamation, I know firsthand the silent suffering of the many people out there who have had their names and reputations damaged by the words of others. Sadly, there are many that are not able to retain legal assistance because they are unable to afford it or the online slime against them doesn't meet the threshold of defamation.

Many people that have read my story of Internet defamation and my landmark case in which I was awarded an $11.3M jury verdict for damages that were done to me online, have told me that it seemed like a surreal nightmare. Many others don't believe it actually happened -- unfortunately I have the court documents and the digital footprints to back it up.

This is why I know exactly what it is like for people of all ages to be victims of cyberbullying, online harassment, cyber-stalking, and Internet trolls.

Trying to avoid digital drama should be a goal for both adults and kids alike. No one wants to open the door to a process server because of their online posts.

Takeaway tips:

• No grown-ups left behind, get cyber-wise today
• Never underestimate the power of the Internet and your keystrokes
• Teaching digital citizenship is as important as toilet training your child
• Let your keystrokes reflect a legacy of kindness, you won't regret it