The Rise of the Social Media SEO Experts and the Decline and Fall of Law

Today’s THR,Esq. story reporting on the Twitter defamation lawsuit between Courtney Love and Dawn Simorangkir, should be a paradigm-shifting, game-changing, cash-making bonanza for any self-anointed social media gurus/experts/rock stars in the Twittersphere (or is it the Twitterverse;  I don’t know and I don’t care enough to consult my Twitter followers, all 393 of them).  You see, it now appears that rather than rely on traditional methods of proving liability and damages in defamation cases, the brave new world of social media requires a 21st century, Web 3.0, modernistic approach: Enter the social media SEO expert.

According to the THR, Esq. story:

“There has never been anything like this case before,” says Simorangkir attorney Bryan Freedman, who will attempt to convince a Los Angeles jury that Love’s false statements destroyed his client’s fashion career, thus entitling her to potentially millions of dollars in damages.

Love’s defense attorney was decidedly dismissive:

“We don’t believe there’s any defamation, and even if there were defamatory statements, there was no damage,” says James Janowitz, an attorney for Love.

What should be a run-of-the-mill celebrity defamation trial is now degenerating into a veritable three-ringed circus:

To aid her case, Simorangkir plans to call to the stand Jessie Stricchiola, a social media expert who was tasked with studying how many people saw the Love rants and what kind of credibility is given to statements made on a casual forum like Twitter. Stricchiola will report her findings at trial.

So who is this certified expert in social media, exactly? According to her company website at Alchemist Media Inc., Jessie C. Stricchiola, the company founder and  co-author of The Art of SEO book (I haven’t read the reviews yet):

“is an SEO and internet marketing expert with over twelve years of expertise. She comes from old school “first generation” SEO beginnings in 1997 and was first invited by Danny Sullivan to speak at the Search Engine Strategies conferences in 2002 and has been a regular speaker at SES, The O’Reilly Web 2.0 Summits, PubCon, ad:tech, shop.org, and other industry events. She is one of the original nine co-founders of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), and is co-author of the currently bestselling SEO title on Amazon.com, “The Art of SEO.”

Consulting clients have included Microsoft, Fair Isaac. Corp., Coca-Cola, LookSmart, and numerous parties to class action and private litigation. Jessie provides expert witness support and general business consulting to businesses, individuals, and non-profit organizations on a wide range of web marketing issues. In addition to providing internet marketing expertise to business clients, Jessie provides litigation support as an SEO expert witness for internet-related litigation matters involving patent, copyright, trademark, SEO, and paid search issues.

As someone who practices IP litigation, including patent, copyright, trademark and defamation law, including internet libel, I have yet to encounter an “SEO litigation” case. No matter, I’m sure there are dueling social media marketing firms that are suing each other over who stole whose algorithm or whose keywords are copyrightable. Good luck with that.

In the meantime, I shudder to think that this development in the US will filter up into Canada. If it does, I will be sure to retain any SEO litigation expert who can convince me that my client should pay them. Of course, I am not that easily persuaded. After all, I have my own professional reputation to protect, so I will ask them to fill out a simple questionnaire to confirm that their prospective expert evidence will fulfill the Supreme Court of Canada’s 4-part test in R. v. Mohan [1994] 2 S.C.R. 9:

1.Is your SEO opinion evidence relevant to proving defamation?

2. Is your SEO opinion evidence necessary to assist the trier of fact?

3. Does your SEO opinion trigger any exclusionary rules?  and

4. Are you a properly qualified expert?

The odds are that none of the above 4 questions will be answered to my satisfaction. However, there is always to possibility that a social media expert can convince a more enterprising lawyer that SEO expertise is the modern day version of a paperboy giving evidence on newspaper circulation data. Hold the presses! You mean to say that this form of expert evidence was never qualified in traditional libel actions involving newspapers? What about the “Infinite Monkey Theorem” instead?

Never mind.

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