If you think a keyboard and computer screen shield you from accountability for unleashing malicious vitriol towards others, let this Staten Island woman’s case be a lesson for you.
Emily Fanelli has been ordered by a judge to pay $1,000 for a libellous, incoherent rage rant published on Yelp that referred to the owner of a floor refinishing business as a “liar” and a “con artist.”
“People do reviews all the time. I shouldn’t have to pay anything,” she said. “It’s freedom of speech.” She’s correct about people doing reviews all the time, maybe has a point about not having to pay anything, and misunderstands (at best) the finer points of “freedom of speech.”
Staten Island Civil Court Judge Philip Straniere acknowledged that Fanelli’s post in general was “opinion and protected speech,” but that such terms as ‘scam’, ‘con artist’ and ‘robs’ “imply actions approaching criminal wrongdoing rather than someone who failed to live up to the terms of a contract.”
The post in question read:
“this guy mat the owner is a scam do not use him you will regret doing business with this company I’m going to court he is a scam customers please beware he will destroy your floors he is nothing by a liar he robs customers, and promises you everything if you want s— then go with him if you like nice work find another he is A SCAM LIAR BULL—-ER,”
Complicating the matter is the fact that the company wasn’t licensed to perform work in Fanelli’s home, which brings up a pretty reasonable question: is it slander if it’s true? If the homeowner was unaware of this fact, perhaps ‘scam’ and ‘con artist’ are fitting of the situation. While it’s encouraging to see a precedent set that limits the extent to which people can abuse businesses online, something seems off about rewarding an unlicensed business owner with $1000 after doing a terrible job of fixing a floor.
This time at least, no one wins.