Fuzzy suit

Pro golfer sues over libelous statements

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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 (an IP that appears to be related to Lynch) on 2006-12-20.[1]

The case

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[3]

The edits in question were removed via selective deletion in December, after a request from Zoeller or a representative.

Community response

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."


  1. ^ Danner, Patrick. Fuzzy Zoeller article question 2007-02-23. "The...statements were first posted in August by...Damien Lynch.". Accessed on 2007-02-25.
  2. ^ "Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Florida; Case No. 07-04167CA15" (PDF). 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2007-02-25.
  3. ^ a b Danner, Patrick (2007-02-22). "Golfer Zoeller sues Miami firm for Wikipedia posting". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2007-02-25.

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What 'random polling of administrators'? -- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  23:36, 27 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]
I polled a random sample of 20 administrators, getting back responses from a little more than half. I felt that it would be a good way to get the community's general opinion on this issue, since nothing was really talked about anywhere. I believe the setup resulted in unbiased results, except for the fact that not all responded, and only admins were contacted (an SRS of the millions of user accounts would have been innappropriate and anything short of an SRS would have resulted in bias). Jaredtalk00:59, 28 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you, I think it should be mentioned here for the future.-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  04:25, 1 March 2007 (UTC)[reply]


I don't believe that the offending edits were removed via the oversight function — I think they were just deleted. Any admin can see the libelous edit here. (The IP listed at this edit is the one listed in the lawsuit.) If the oversight function had been used, only developers would be able to see the deleted edit. —Josiah Rowe (talkcontribs) 08:10, 28 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Yes, this is true. (I personally thought this was oversight, but I see the difference now.) Can someone from Signpost correct this? -- Zanimum 15:32, 1 March 2007 (UTC)[reply]
The Signpost is still a wiki, isn't it? I figure anyone can fix it, so I did. :^) —Josiah Rowe (talkcontribs) 19:31, 1 March 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Isn't it obvious what we need to do


If you publish a book that sold more than 5,000 copies you are notable enough to stay in the encyclopedia. This seems to be firm policy since the days of VFD. The community needs to realize that ppl with a few published books will unlikely have much sourced information on them. If there aren't sources how can we possibly verify what is put into the biography? We can't. We need to define notable ppl. We need to link sources to notability. We need to make that category far more exclusive. 21:56, 5 March 2007 (UTC)[reply]


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