Chicago Company Sues Yahoo Over Message Board Post

Win or lose, Internet lawsuits are bad P.R.

By Matt Bartosik
|  Thursday, Dec 31, 2009  |  Updated 6:20 AM CDT
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When a financial services company read some recent comments on an Internet chat board, their reaction was far from "Yahoo!"

Advance Equities, Inc. filed suit on Monday, claiming false defamatory statements were posted on Yahoo's financial chat board on November 9, 2009.

As is the nature of a chat board, the statements were only on the site temporarily, but that isn't stopping the company from citing Illinois Supreme Court Rule 224, which allows "a person or entity" to "determine the identity of one who may be liable in damages."

The firm is demanding to know the true identity behind robinlove@yahoo.com, who made the unpleasant remarks about the Loop business.

The lawsuit is just another in a pattern of big businesses attacking individuals for expressing their opinions online.

Advance Equities should have taken a note from similar lawsuits, like when Horizon Realty sued resident Amanda Bonnen for her Tweet complaining about a moldy apartment or when Buffalo Grove trustee Lisa Stone demanded the identity of a snarky Daily Herald commenter. Even if their complaints are legally sound, they don't make any logical sense when it comes to public relations.

What do such parties hope to gain in arguably frivolous lawsuits? These court proceedings certainly don't deter the vast majority of Internet users from typing out their thoughts for the world to see. In fact, they only add fuel to the fire, attracting negative public attention online. Word of the overkill lawsuits spreads even faster than the initial "defamatory" statements.

Many companies have found a way to use social media effectively, engaging in better and instant communication with their customers. For example, Whole Foods responds to customer complaints on their Twitter account, twitter.com/wholefoods. 

It would be worthwhile for businesses like Advance Equities and Horizon Realty to respond to the charges directly, rather than try to suppress them. Such overzealous attacks only make themselves look bad.

Matt Bartosik is a Chicago native and a social media sovereign.

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