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Justices on the state's highest civil court on Thursday weighed broader questions about cyberbullying, hate speech and the First Amendment while hearing a case with far lower stakes. At issue is whether a company can be forced to remove from its website damaging personal comments about a fired Austin businessman.
Lower courts already have ruled that Robert Kinney's former company, Los Angeles-based BCG Attorney Search, can't be forced to remove the comments, even if a judge or jury eventually finds it defamed Kinney on the company's website by accusing him of running a kickback scheme. That's because defamatory speech still has protections under the law.
But Kinney's attorneys told the nine-member court that it's time for Texas law to catch up with technology.
"It was a little harder to defame someone before the Internet. Now, on my cellphone, I can walk out of here and in five minutes I can say something defamatory about somebody and hit a button, and it's there worldwide," said Martin Siegel, Kinney's attorney. "And it's potentially there for perpetuity."
Anthony Ricciardelli, an attorney for BCG, said forcing the comments to be removed would "set a dangerous precedent that will have a chilling effect on speech and may lead to a slippery slope."
The court isn't expected to make a ruling for several months.
Justices asked both sides to consider more divisive cases involving cyberbullying or hate speech _ whether a court should be able to issue orders to stop online antagonists from harassing others, for instance, even if no defamation was present.
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