Unhappy with her daughter’s private school, Sonjia McSween created a blog to warn other parents.
The unexpected result: The New School of Orlando Inc. slapped McSween with a defamation lawsuit to stop her from publishing and talking about the school and force McSween to pay damages.
Some say it’s a case of censorship. Others say First Amendment rights have nothing to do with it.”Lots of people, private and public, can have thin skins,” said Rebecca Jeschke, spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates digital free-speech rights and maintains a legal guide for bloggers. “People need to get used to this new world where everyone has a soapbox and can use it.”
The Internet is what gives the New School case a new dimension.
“It’s one thing for a disgruntled parent to go around bad-mouthing you to her small group of friends,” said Lyrissa Lidsky, a law professor at the University of Florida whose expertise includes First Amendment and Internet-speech law. “It’s another to bad-mouth you to the world at large on the Internet.”
Also known as New School Preparatory, the kindergarten-through-eighth grade school alleges that McSween deliberately told unflattering lies, causing enrollment to drop. It alleges defamation, libel, slander and interference with business relations. McSween contends that she was just sharing what happened to her and her daughter, Logan.
“When I created this Web site, I did not do it with malice,” said McSween, 28, a single mother who lives in west Orange County. “I created it with disappointment about my experience.”
David Simmons, an Orlando attorney representing New School, said the lawsuit, filed in late October, was prompted by McSween’s postings suggesting a possible kickback scheme between a psychologist and the school. Simmons described that allegation as “ludicrous” and “damaging.”
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