Thursday, July 22, 2010

Michael and Miriam Hersh demand Yahoo! and Google release names of blog commenters for $411M lawsuit 

An angry Brooklyn couple whose parenting choices were excoriated online by scores of anonymous commenters are demanding Yahoo and Google unmask their attackers so they can sue them for $411 million.

Michael and Miriam Hersh were pilloried after their fellow Orthodox Jews in March 2008 launched a bizarre rescue mission to pull their troubled teen son from a behavior boot camp they put him in.

Michael Hersh was described as a "Nazi" - and worse - by commenters on thecooljew.com Web site. He and and his wife were further criticized across the blogosophere.

The Hersh family, which declined comment yesterday, has insisted in the past they were looking out for their son's best interests - not being cruel.

The online criticism of the mom and dad was relentless, and Michael Hersh says it's to blame for his firing from his $200,000-a-year job as the CEO of Hatzolah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance corps that serves the city.

The suit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court cites one site - thefailedmessiah.com - for posting Michael Hersh's picture and asking: "Should this man be CEO of Hatzalah. ... Shouldn't he and his wife be in jail."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that says its fighting for Internet freedom - and Web anonymity - is trying to block subpoenas sent to Yahoo and Google, which hosted the blogs in question.

The suit is the latest in a line of suits the foundation's senior staff lawyer Matt Zimmerman said could chill free speech on the freewheeling Internet.

"All you have to do is file a lawsuit, issue a subpoena and find the identities of your critics," said Zimmerman.

"This is happening more and more," he added, "so more people are being offended than ever before."

Still, he thinks their right to remain anonymous should be protected by the courts.

"No blog is safe," said the blogger behind a site called theunorthodoxjew. "Any blog will be affected if Yahoo or Google gives up the information."

Media law expert Sam Bayard said Internet users should realize there is a difference between criticizing someone you disagree with - and spreading lies about them.

"If what you are saying is illegal, known as defamation, someone can sue you," said Bayard, who is the assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School.

Besides the bloggers, the Hershes also name their relatives, Hasidic activist Tzvi Gluck and nearly a dozen others who coordinated the effort to rescue their son from Tranquility Bay, a notoriously rough boot camp.


I met the son in question right after he was rescued from "tranquility bay". It seems like his parent's didn't like his religious choices and had him hauled off to a jail like setting as a result.


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