Criminal Libel and Web Sites: reports:

Oklahoma prosecutors will soon weigh whether to take up criminal charges against a former mayoral candidate accused of libeling a longtime state politician on his Web forum.

In a police report filed Aug. 16, former state senator and convicted felon Gene Stipe charged that Harold King had published false information about Stipe and his family on his Web forum, the McAlester Watercooler, said Capt. Darrell Miller of the McAlester, Okla., police force. The nature of the information was not disclosed. . . .

Many people have argued that criminal libel laws are unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has never so held. The government would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the statement was false, and that the defendant knew it was false, or at least knew there was a substantial chance it was false and didn't adequately investigate that possibility. (This at least would be the rule for statements on matters of public concern.) The Court's most recent decision about this, Garrison v. Louisiana (1964), basically required this sort of proof, but did not go further and suggest that all criminal libel laws are per se impermissible. The article goes on to say that "[A]ccording to a 2003 study by the Media Law Resource Center[, a] total of eight suits -- or about 10 percent of all criminal libel cases [presumably over the last few decades] -- have involved Web postings by nonprofessional media. In half of those Web cases, including the three most recent ones, the charges were dropped. One of those recent cases led to a Utah criminal libel law being declared unconstitutional."