Ethics and Information Technology 4 (2):143-158 (2002)

Elizabeth Buchanan
School of Oriental and African Studies
This article explores recent developments inthe regulation of Internet speech, inparticular, injurious or defamatory speech andthe impact the attempts at regulation arehaving on the `body' in the sense of theindividual person who speaks through the mediumof the Internet and upon those harmed by thatspeech. The article proceeds in threesections. First, a brief history of the legalattempts to regulate defamatory Internet speechin the United States is presented; a shortcomparative discussion of defamation law in theUK and Australia is included. As discussedbelow, this regulation has altered thetraditional legal paradigm of responsibilityand, as a result, creates potential problems forthe future of unrestricted and even anonymousspeech on the Internet. Second, an ethicalassessment is made of the defamatory speechenvironment in order to determine which actorshave moral responsibility for the harm causedby defamatory speech. This moral assessment iscompared to the developing and anticipatedlegal paradigm to identify possible conformityof moral and legal tenants or to recognize theconflict between morality and law in assigningresponsibility to defamatory actors. Thisassessment then concludes with possiblesuggestions for changes in the legal climategoverning the regulation of defamatory speechon the Internet, as well as prediction of theresult should the legal climate continue todevelop on its present course. This is not tosuggest that all law, or even the law ofdefamation, be structured to reflect thesubjectivity of a moral construct, but since itis the authors position that the legalassignment of liability in online settings ismisaligned, this reflection can serve asbeginning reassessment of that assignment.
Keywords defamation   internet service providers   internet speech   libel   moral responsibility
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1019915520692
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