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Bad Words and Good Samaritans: Defamatory Speech in Cyberspace
Unformatted Document Text:  8 included “Visit Oklahoma . . . It’s a BLAST,” “Putting the kids to Bed . . . Oklahoma 1995,” and “McVeigh for President 1996.” To order, interested buyers were encouraged to call a Seattle phone number, ask for “Ken,” and to “please call back if busy.” The ensuing public outrage was predictable, and Zeran was immediately inundated with derogatory and threatening phone calls. Since Zeran operated a small business from his home, he needed his phone and could not simply change his number or request an unlisted line. In an effort to obtain relief, Zeran notified AOL, which dutifully removed the offending messages and closed the account from which they originated. In accordance with its policy, however, AOL did not post a retraction. Despite AOL’s efforts, the unknown user managed to create a new account and repost similar messages. One of the new announcements proclaimed that some items were sold out, highlighted new items with equally offensive slogans (including “Finally a day care center that keeps the kids quiet—Oklahoma 1995”), and even promised that one dollar from every sale would be donated to the victims of the bombing. As with the earlier notices, the new postings also contained Zeran’s name and telephone number. Once again Zeran contacted AOL, and AOL in turn, removed the anonymous postings. If this were not bad enough, a broadcaster at radio station KRXO in Oklahoma City learned about the postings and, assuming that the postings was legitimate, actively encouraged his listeners to call “Ken” and voice their collective disgust. As a result, Zeran received death threats and violent calls from Oklahoma City residents. By April 30—five days after the original posting--Zeran estimated that he was receiving an abusive phone call every two minutes. Fearing for Zeran’s personal health and safety, the Seattle police placed his home under protective surveillance. Although the station subsequently discovered that the postings were part of an elaborate hoax and apologized, Zeran continued to receive abusive phone calls for several more weeks.

Authors: Herbeck, Dale.
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8
included “Visit Oklahoma . . . It’s a BLAST,” “Putting the kids to Bed . . . Oklahoma 1995,” and
“McVeigh for President 1996.” To order, interested buyers were encouraged to call a Seattle
phone number, ask for “Ken,” and to “please call back if busy.”
The ensuing public outrage was predictable, and Zeran was immediately inundated with
derogatory and threatening phone calls. Since Zeran operated a small business from his home, he
needed his phone and could not simply change his number or request an unlisted line. In an
effort to obtain relief, Zeran notified AOL, which dutifully removed the offending messages and
closed the account from which they originated. In accordance with its policy, however, AOL did
not post a retraction. Despite AOL’s efforts, the unknown user managed to create a new account
and repost similar messages. One of the new announcements proclaimed that some items were
sold out, highlighted new items with equally offensive slogans (including “Finally a day care
center that keeps the kids quiet—Oklahoma 1995”), and even promised that one dollar from
every sale would be donated to the victims of the bombing. As with the earlier notices, the new
postings also contained Zeran’s name and telephone number. Once again Zeran contacted AOL,
and AOL in turn, removed the anonymous postings.
If this were not bad enough, a broadcaster at radio station KRXO in Oklahoma City
learned about the postings and, assuming that the postings was legitimate, actively encouraged
his listeners to call “Ken” and voice their collective disgust. As a result, Zeran received death
threats and violent calls from Oklahoma City residents. By April 30—five days after the original
posting--Zeran estimated that he was receiving an abusive phone call every two minutes. Fearing
for Zeran’s personal health and safety, the Seattle police placed his home under protective
surveillance. Although the station subsequently discovered that the postings were part of an
elaborate hoax and apologized, Zeran continued to receive abusive phone calls for several more
weeks.


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