Does google make libel easier?

One of the elements of libel is that you have to clearly identify the person you are talking about. Traditionally, this meant naming them, or otherwise indicating who they were in a way that was identifiable by a large number of people.

In the Style section of the New York Times today is an essay titled The New Nanny Diaries Are Online, in which a Helaine Olen takes apart her former nanny. She notes that her view of her former nanny was changed when she started reading her blog. She starts out the story:

Our former nanny, a 26-year-old former teacher with excellent references, liked to touch her breasts while reading The New Yorker and often woke her lovers in the night by biting them. She took sleeping pills, joked about offbeat erotic fantasies involving Tucker Carlson and determined she’d had more female sexual partners than her boyfriend.

Sounds like the kind of person I would like to meet! Leaving aside whether “the nanny” was, in fact, defamed (“false light” might be closer, but I doubt any defamation would actually stick), does Olen identify her nanny?

The easy answer is “no,” but the actual answer is “yes.” Later in the article, Olen anonymously quotes the blog. Any non-trivial quotation is easily found Google, leaving little doubt as to the identity of the nanny. She answers the essay on her blog, making a persuasive argument that she was mis-characterized. (Though I find a much earlier post more interesting.)

So Google makes her identifiable through the quote. But paradoxically, it also makes her capable of responding, and engaging Olen in a public debate. She has no interest in suing, but if she did, I think you could make the case that she already has set the record straight. You would think the least the Times could do is link to her rebuttal.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 7/18/2005 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Boy, Google has made the whole background check thing easier. Gotta Google a name to see who you are dealing with.

  2. waeprj
    Posted 7/22/2005 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Evenyone who is all up in arms about this please read! I used to live with this blogger. Yes, the boss is a bitch, but the nanny is a psycho. A psycho that killed her cat and who has major major problems. Yes, killed her cat. This girl has problems. I moved out very early on the request of my friends and family who were afraid for my safety. This girl did not give her boss her blog address out of stupidity or just so she could read a little poem about kids. She wanted to be caught. She loves that becuase it makes her feel important. Most of the things on her blog are false except for watching Gilmore Girls. She has supposed relationships with men, who in reality she was stalking and it got very bad and they have cut off all contact with her. This girl is well educated and may sound intelligent, and she is, but she is also very very deeply troubled. Perhaps the bitch boss picked up on this but is too full of her own craziness to see the situations for what it is. This is not about sex or liberalism or classism. It is about a sad sick dillutional girl and her bitchy boss. I’m sad it has gone this far.

  3. XGreatKing
    Posted 10/26/2005 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I would have fired that stupid nanny long before Mrs. Olen did. Write insulting remarks towards the boss and her family and tell her about it? Oh yeah, you can kiss your ass goodbye.

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