Criminal Defamation Through Social Media Comments

Many individuals are more open to share their opinions when it is done through social media posts or comments, yet is there a point when their views could be seen as defamation of character?

Immediate judging by the public

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In a court of law, someone is innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to social media however, people are often figuratively burned at the stake the second they are accused of a crime. It doesn’t help that local news sources appear quick to run stories online the second they catch wind of a crime, especially one that is likely to result in a lot of judgmental chatter. Even if court proceedings exonerate a defendant, the sting of being deemed a criminal in the social media limelight is slow to heal. Things said either vocally or by the written word can damage the public outlook on that person with the ability to ruin their reputation forever, regardless of whether or not the comments are true.

Newsworthy?

Social media witch hunts often occur when an arrest is reported, yet they can also happen when any story of interest hits social media news feeds. Recently a local high school football coach in southern Utah was relieved of his duties while school officials assured everyone he was not being disciplined for anything and would continue teaching classes. Despite the school’s attempt to limit possible rumors that would fan the fire for slanderous comments, a twist on the story from multiple news stations quickly threw the story out to the allegorical wolves.

Opinions or fabricated facts

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Within a short amount of time of the story hitting social media, hundreds of comments from the public followed on the public post. Some of these comments were speculations onto the reasons for the loss of the coach’s position, while others made blatant attacks on the coach’s character, making claims that were severe in nature and could possibly alter the way other’s regarded him. One individual claimed the coach “tortured” her family, which is possibly an exaggeration from an offended parent whose kid sat on the bench, not an actual claim of physical assault. That comment had the potential to cause others to be concerned about the possibility of the coach being violent towards his students and therefore could be seen as defamation.

Freedom of speech or criminal defamation?

According to Utah law, there is a fine line between stating opinions and spreading false information. When someone crosses that line and spreads rumors that could hurt another person, they may end up facing criminal charges for defamation. Utah Code 76-9-404 states, “A person is guilty of criminal defamation if he knowingly communicates to any person orally or in writing any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” Section 76-9-404 goes on to warn the public that “[c]riminal defamation is a class B misdemeanor.” According to Utah State Courts, if someone is convicted of criminal defamation, they may face “[u]p to six months in jail” as well as a fine “up to $1,000”. Defamation may also be prone to result in civil charges as well as criminal.

Nothing but the truth

If a person makes a statement about another that has the potential to greatly damage that individual’s reputation, they had better be sure what they are saying or writing is true. In fact, the truth is the best defense in cases of criminal defamation. For more information on criminal defamation or other offenses against public order and decency, contact a criminal defense attorney.

How Using Speech Imitation Software Wrong Could Get a Person Thrown in Jail

There is new speech imitation software being created that is making voice cloning easier to do while sounding more realistic. Users beware: certain uses of speech imitation could get a person thrown in jail.

Speech recognition

Speech Imitation

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Speech recognition is used by millions of Americans every day. Those from older generations who are not savvy on texting may use speech to easily send messages for them. Others frequently use Siri, Alexa, Samsung’s new Bixby, and Google Assistant to ask questions, get directions, order items, and otherwise include these AI assistants to have an active part in their technological lives. These systems are created to recognize a user’s voice and even adjust to better understand voice patterns. After correctly understanding the user’s speech, these AI assistants answer back in their semi-robotic tones, even going as far as to crack a few AI jokes. Now the speech recognition and computer speaking capabilities have gone to an entirely new level by speaking back to us in our own voices.

Speech imitation software

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There have been a few different types of speech imitation software on the market, however none of them compare to what the company Lyrebird is creating. Using AI technology, the Canadian company Lyrebird uses a mere 60 second recording of a person’s voice in order to generate thousands of words and phrases. The troubling difference between these older versions of speech imitation software and those produced by Lyrebird, is the voices produced by Lyrebird sounds more realistic, losing the robotic sounds of other AIs. Already on the heels of Lyrebird are other advanced speech imitation software such as VoCo by Adobe, CandyVoice, and VivoText which plans on letting users choose the level of emotion portrayed through the imitated speech.

Illegal uses of the software

Now that this near flawless speech imitation software is here, imitating the speech of people could give user’s hours of entertainment; however it can also come with legal repercussions as well.

• If speech imitation is used to “expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule” and the person “knowingly communicate[d] to any person orally or in writing any information which he knows to be false” as is stated in Utah Code 76-9-404, the person using the voice cloning technology could end up with a class B misdemeanor charge for criminal defamation.

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•Speech imitation software could be used to commit identity fraud. Many security measures use other means of protection besides a password. This can include iris or fingerprint scanners as well as facial recognition or voice bio-metrics security software. Voice cloning could open doors for criminals to obtain private information about others or to gain access to otherwise secured accounts. According to Utah Code 76-6-1102, identity fraud is either a third or second degree felony, depending on “the value of the credit, goods, services, employment, or any other thing of value”.

• One crime that can arise from speech imitation software is impersonation of an officer. Whether done as a joke to scare a friend or for more malicious intent, pretending to be an officer in person or by voice can result in charges. Utah Code 76-8-512 states those guilty of impersonating an officer will face class B misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

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• One of the most malevolent ways speech imitation software could be used is by making it sound like someone admitted to committing a crime. If used this way, the person whose voice was imitated may be the one facing criminal charges. Since voice recordings may be used in court unless there is a lack of predicate, an imitated recording of someone confessing to a crime could mean the difference between whether or not someone goes to jail for a crime they didn’t commit.

• All the criminal charges detailed above can also be accompanied by civil charges brought on by the individuals who were victimized by the speech imitation.

Imitate responsibly

As with any technology, users should always follow the guidelines that would accompany speech imitation software and refrain from using the software illegally. For more information on legal ramifications of speech imitation, contact a criminal defense attorney.