Agent Loses Fight Against Bad Gossip Online

June 21, 2011

Bad reviews and rumors from former customers or critics can spread quickly on Web sites, leaving real estate professionals unsure of how to end the harmful gossip that can ultimately damage their business.

Christakis Shiamili, the founder of Ardor New York Real Estate, decided to fight back against one New York Web site that claims to expose “the underbelly of the Manhattan real estate market” and posted comments that accused him of anti-Semitism, domestic violence, and mistreatment of his employees. He sued the now-defunct Web site, owned by Ryan McCann from the Real Estate Group of New York (which is now part of MNS), and the case ended up in New York’s highest court.

Shiamili told The New York Times that his business had suffered because of the untruthful comments on the Web site. “They weren’t only attacking me, they were attacking other companies,” he said. “It was a means to diminish their market share.”

However, Shiamili’s lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by the New York Court of Appeals. The court upheld lower court decisions that McCann and his co-defendant, Daniel Baum, were protected under the Communications Decency Act. That act shields Web site operators from liability when they publish and edit material they did not create.

Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick noted that the comments about Shiamili were “unquestionably offensive and obnoxious,” but the court ruled the site’s operators had “not become ‘content providers’ by virtue of moving one of the comments to its own post.”

The court decision could set a precedent for other places, which “could certainly open the doors for a lot of people to say a lot of nasty things,” says Steven D. Sladkus, a lawyer at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.

Source: “Battle Waged Over Real Estate Gossip on the Web,”The New York Times (June 20, 2011)