Every day the internet invents new ways for humans to get into trouble. From ancient times until the 1960s, if you had a bad date and you wanted to write about it, you had to get out your stone tablet or a pen and paper and write your news to a friend. Indeed, you could “talk” about it, but conversation is ethereal; it disappears into the air. *

In the 1960s you could copy these thoughts using a photocopier and distribute your news that way. Still, people didn’t do that because you had to first make the copies and then devise some means to distribute them.

But in March 2022, some genius devised a means to organize Facebook groups that allowed users to share experiences about the men they date in a collective way. I could say a “communistic” way but that would be too political. The service is called “Are We Dating the Same Guy?” A competitor is called “Vouch Matchmaking.” This passed under my radar screen until today when news came out of Chicago that a law firm has filed suit on behalf of one of the men “reviewed” against 50 different participants and entities involved in this kind of app alleging that the comments posted were defamatory and intended to inflict emotional distress. He is seeking economic damages for what was published about him. The law firm representing the plaintiff has shared that it is looking for similar cases.

We have noted in prior posts that the age of on-line dating has created special risks, particularly for women. We have suggested that women may want to check on-line records for criminal histories as a means of protecting themselves. Alas, posting statements to the public at large about whether your date, groped you, stole your checkbook, skipped out on a check or a hotel room visit is not going to be a good way to protect your sisters from men of bad habits. Rather, it is an invitation to be sued by someone claiming that your reported experience was a lie and has sullied your date’s reputation not just with other potential dates, but with his employer, or his friends and family.

This can’t be a big deal, can it? Oh yes. Suppose you are invited to join a local surgeon for his annual President’s Day getaway to the Four Seasons in Nevis. Gentleman that he seems to be, he generously suggests he will arrange the flight and reimburse you for your own room.

Things don’t go as expected. You fly together, check into your respective accommodations, and spend a lovely day at the beach. But over dinner, he drinks too much and when walking you back to your room, he become aggressive in that most unpleasant of ways. You manage the situation without calling for help. But the next day you learn that he has flown the coop and you are alone without your return ticket or comp for the room he offered to cover.

So, you write about it and post it on the SameGuy app. It’s read by people at the hospital that employs him and the local charitable boards he sits on. This begets a visit to you by another unrelated adult (typically male) who brings you legal papers saying that your post on the app has cost him his $700,000 job and his ability to find substitute employment at any other nearby hospital. The complaint says that you posted this in an effort to blackmail him and that none of the sexual assault allegations are true. He seeks $1,000,000 in economic and reputational damage for what you wrote.

You call your friend the lawyer. How can this be? The explanation you will get is that what was said or done during the encounter in your hotel room in the Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis is a “he said/she said” proposition. Neither of you has a witness nor any other means to corroborate your allegations. You can counterclaim for his assault. But when it goes to trial a judge or jury is going to have to decide who is more credible. Walking into that courtroom, you have been damaged to the extent that he had physical contact without your consent. He walks in telling the factfinder that your false allegation has cost him his $60,000 a month income because his employer decided it did not want to have a person alleged to be a criminal on its staff.

You were only trying to protect the public from a guy who looked good but acted bad. But the public is not going to step up to pay your legal fees to defend the claims of your date. People think that defamation suits are brought by rich people against rich people and that is mostly true. But when you broadcast your allegations to the community at large, especially in writing, you may be inflicting damage your never considered when you wrote your post.

The concept of sharing information about poor dating results, even criminal dating results seems like a useful one. But, candidly, your report needs to be to the police and not the community at large. When you post on Facebook or just about any other shared website you are legally responsible for what you say. And you need to understand the vital difference between an assertion of opinion and a statement of fact.

Opinion: He was the worst person I ever dated.

Fact:  He groped me. He walked on the check. He’s HIV positive.

.* Technically, a false statement that harms another’s reputation is also defamatory if uttered orally even though never written. Most lawyers stay away from these kinds of claims because there is no witness or written evidence the words were said. When you publish your statement is verifiable and your audience much larger.