GOP lawmaker: allow limitless libel lawsuits on social media posts

By: - January 8, 2020 9:35 am

Photo by Nick Youngson | Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

A Phoenix Republican is pushing to include social media comments to Arizona’s libel and slander laws and scrap the statute of limitations for defamatory statements published online, something a First Amendment attorney says would have far-reaching effects.

House Bill 2103, sponsored by Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix, would add internet publications and posts to Arizona’s libel law and open up the statute of limitations. The bill says that, if the libel or slander is published on the internet, then penalties accrue “every day after it is first published until the original publication that is the basis for the action is removed from the internet.” 

“We’re just bringing it up to quality with changing technologies,” Allen told Arizona Mirror. 

However, local media attorney and First Amendment expert Dan Barr sees Allen’s bill a bit differently. 

“This would radically change the statute of limitations for libel,” Barr said. “It would mean that an article that was published years ago could be sued upon.”

Arizona law currently allows libel and slander suits to be filed within the first year after a comment is made or published.

When the Mirror pressed Allen about Barr’s point, Allen said if a person could prove they’ve been defamed and bring a successful suit, he saw no problem with effectively eliminating the statute of limitations for things published online. 

“The onus is to bring it up with current publishing practices and to deal with when they are defamed,” Allen said. He said there was no incident that sparked the idea for the legislation.

Barr still sees the bill as a dangerous loophole that could create all sorts of problems down the road. 

“Someone can be sued for something they wrote 10, 20, 30 years ago if it is online,” Barr said. “You could even sue someone for a book or article they wrote 50 years ago, if the book or article has since been placed online.”

Additionally, the bill could allow for people to sit on a claim and allow for penalties to stack up, according to Barr. 

It also would also allow for libel or slander suits against social media posts, something Allen said he felt was needed as technology has changed.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.