Have a Complaint? Blog about It

The Web is fast becoming a favorite forum for consumers or parents to lodge complaints. Whether it's a gripe against child's school administrator, a faulty product or even a car manufacturer, the disgruntled have found a wide range of creative ways to air grievances online, raising new questions about the limits of free speech in the Internet age.

Late last month an Orlando, Fla., mother blogged about her 7-year-old daughter's private school, which she claimed discriminated against "mixed-raced" students and generally made her child unhappy.

When the New School of Orlando got wind of the Sonjia McSween's blog, it sued her for defamation for claiming that the school had a "kickback" scheme arranged with a psychologist.

McSween could not be reached for comment.

"This has nothing to do with someone not liking a school or not liking their treatment," said David Simmons, the lawyer representing the prep school, who brushed aside the notion that the school was just unhappy about the negative attention. "It has everything to do with the allegations that there was a kickback scheme that she has no basis for. We are suing her to make her stop."

McSween isn't the only parent turning to the blogosphere to air her grievances.

A group of parents in Argyle, Texas, are so angry with the Argule school district's superintendent, Jason Ceyanes, that that they posted the details of his divorce proceedings on the Web.

Ceyanes wants to put the kibosh on students' dirty dancing and revealing clothing at school dances, according to The Wall Street Journal, arguing that they create an unsafe environment.

While Ceyanes has yet to take legal action against the disgruntled parents, other members of the community who support the superintendent have created their own blogs to counter those of the dissident parents.

There are also examples of suits filed by product manufacturers against customers who have created Web sites devoted solely to their complaints about specific products. In fact, another Web site "webgripesites.com," offers a comprehensive list of these consumer-created sites along with a brief explanation of the complaints.

Alan and Linda Townsend, for example, developed a Web site to complain about the spray-on siding they used on their home. The product's manufacturer didn't respond well to the public scruntiny, suing the couple for defamation and trademark infringment, as well as accusing them of intentionally misleading other consumers, according to the Associated Press.

Eric Wiedemer launched a site to complain about his disfunctional Suzuki car, which he told The Cincinnati Inquirer had a faulty engine from day one. The car manufacturer later threatened legal action against the customer, accusing him of defaming their brand on his site "SuzukiVeronaSucks.com."

The World Wide Whine

As Web sites and blogs replace friends and hairdressers as sounding boards, many people are unaware that airing their grievances on the Web can leave them open to lawsuits, justified and not.

"People are really taking advantage of [the Web] and are speaking their minds online. But there are things that you can't say online without legal ramifications … You can't defame people and you can't disclose private facts," said Rebecca Jesche, spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

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