Editor's note: The Wikipedia Signpost is an independent, community newspaper, and is not affiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation. Any comments published on this page are the opinions of their author alone, and do not reflect the opinion of the Wikimedia Foundation.
In an event seemingly reminiscent of the Seigenthaler controversy that unfurled in the latter part of 2005, professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller is suing Miami-based education consulting firm Josef Silny & Associates, Inc. for posting defamatory statements on his Wikipedia biography. The statements, purporting that Zoeller was an alcohol and drug addict and a domestic abuser, were originally posted on 2006-08-28 by User:Damien Lynch and reposted twice, most recently by IP address 220.127.116.11 (an IP that appears to be related to Lynch) on 2006-12-20.
Zoeller filed his case anonymously (under the name "John Doe") on 2007-02-13 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The court filings state that he intended to mask his identity to "prevent or minimize unnecessary further injury to the Plaintiff's reputation." Zoeller and his lawyer Scott D. Sheftall are seeking damages in excess of $15,000 on counts of defamation, invasion of privacy (false light), and intentional infliction of emotional distress. When confronted with these claims, a surprised Josef Silny expressed doubt that any of his 45 employees were responsible for the statements. He reported that he would have his computer consultant check into the situation.
Sheftall could not sue Wikipedia because safe harbor provisions of federal law say that the provider of an interactive computer service cannot be held liable for the statements of its users. He plans to subpoena Wikipedia, though, in order to ascertain certain details of those who published the comments. Miami lawyer Thomas Julin doubts that the consulting firm can be held responsible. If the employer did not know about the statements made and it was unrelated to business, he says, then the employer could not be held liable.
The edits in question were removed via selective deletion in December, after a request from Zoeller or a representative.
In a random polling of administrators about the implications of this situation, general consensus was that there were flaws in Wikipedia policy or it was not enforced as much as it should be. Pengo commented that "measures will need to be taken to keep biographies of living persons free of unsourced nonsense." The user also stressed that "these measures [cannot] affect the people editing the rest of Wikipedia." Marine 69-71 urged compulsory registration, suggesting that in problems like the Zoeller controversy, "part of the blame should go to our lenient 'Everyone can edit' policy."
Conversely, Bucketsofg stated that "we can't do much more than we've done so far: create policies like WP:BLP that demand higher standards of evidence." Pengo admitted that "far greater crimes [are] committed on Wikipedia [than living persons biographies vandalism]," suggesting that our efforts should be spent elsewhere: "I'm not so big on litigation-happy American society, which seeks payouts over restorative justice. I hardly think a lawsuit will improve the lives of any of the parties involved any more than a handshake and a "sorry" would....This case, by itself, surely will not have a huge affect on Wikipedia, but it does appear to be part of a growing trend of people getting upset about what's written about them on Wikipedia.... What's more important than settling this case is to put in place measures to stop further cases popping up...."
Several users noted the need for reliable sources. Aude said, "[We] need to be firm about enforcing the biographies of living persons policy and do everything we can. We need to be very firm about reliable sources.... Because there are so many articles and IMHO not enough active Wikipedians for the given workload, a lot of stuff gets added to these articles that goes unnoticed for too long. Dino suggested, "Maybe [create] a *public* "one strike and you're banned for a day, two for a month ..." type of policy. [Wikipedia] has become a victim of its own popularity, and must change with the times."