May 13, 2022
Back in 2016, a student hacked and altered the webpage of Merrimack Valley (NH) Middle School science teacher Debbie Banaian. Another student then posted the shots of the hacked webpage to Twitter, and a number of students then retweeted the shots. The material was nasty; it portrayed Banaian as a sexual pervert seeking sexual liaisons with students and parents, according to a lawsuit she filed. Some of the less objectionable alterations included: “Hey, kids talk to your dads for me. I’m a hot cougar tall and blonde,” “Welcome to: Mrs Banaian’s 8th Grade Raperoom,” and “Thank you all for allowing me to touch your children.”
Banaian claimed to suffer intense emotional trauma as a result, and ultimately retired after a 22-year teaching career, qualifying for disability under the New Hampshire Retirement System.
Banaian also sued the original hacker, the student who posted the shots to Twitter, and the students who retweeted the shots. The original hacker died, and the student who initially posted the shots to Twitter had no insurance coverage.
And, on Wednesday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court let the others off the hook.
The 4-0 decision relied on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision in federal law that grants an exemption from libel and defamation suits to high-tech companies such as Twitter and Google. That law provides that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Banaian’s attorney argued that the term “user” only applied to libraries and universities and other places that provided internet access when the law was written in 1996. The Court disagreed, holding that Twitter falls within the definition of an “interactive computer service” and that the retweeters are “users” of the service.
I guess the moral here is that if you are going to defame someone, just retweet someone else’s defamatory statement.