“Consumer fraud”: The new online speech control law?
New Jersey prosecutors have subpoenaed records of JuicyCampus.com, a Web site that publishes anonymous, often malicious gossip about college students.
Language on the site ranges from catty to hateful and offensive. One thread, for example, on the “most overrated Princeton student” quickly dissolves into name-calling, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
JuicyCampus may be violating the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by suggesting that it doesn’t allow offensive material but providing no enforcement of that rule — and no way for users to report or dispute the material, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said Tuesday.
What a load of baloney! I have litigated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act frontwards, backwards and sideways, and believe me — this would be an unbelievable stretch. If Milgram’s interpretation were to fly, it would make that statute an omnibus be-a-good-person-online law with essentially no meaningful limitations. Not that I doubt that the Attorney General would love to have such power, but that would certainly be beyond anything contemplated by the New Jersey Legislature when it was passed.
Of course beyond what the Act itself provides, such an application of it would be unconstitutional too. Unfortunately, neither of those are giant concerns to some judges in the Garden State.
By the way, this is not an endorsement of online defamation, especially when done anonymously. On the contrary. But please, let’s call a fraud a fraud.
UPDATE here from Overlawyered.