Superintendent calls social media attacks 'nothing short of cyber terrorism'

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - The Montgomery County superintendent calls it "cyber terrorism" and says his school district is threatening legal action against anyone who uses social media to say false or vicious things about a school employee. But an expert tells us the school district could face a challenge.

It's not the first time Superintendent Joshua Powell of Montgomery County Public Schools has faced public scrutiny, but this time he says it's gone too far on social media websites.

The superintendent isn't willing to comment on camera but sent a statement about the matter, saying he has been "authorized to 'initiate litigation against Internet providers to obtain the identification of persons making anonymous defamatory comments on-line.'"

We sat down with a journalism professor at Asbury University to get an idea of how a libel case would play out and would have to prove in the courtroom.

"You have to prove they knew it was a lie and they didn't care," said Professor David Wheeler, a journalism professor at Asbury University. "That's a very, very difficult thing to prove in court."

These comments are on websites, like Topix, an open online forum that people comment on anonymously. The superintendent stated a few individuals within the school system have been "defamed, harassed, and intimidated" by the spreading of "fabricated information" and is preparing for litigation, which would use tax payer dollars.

"That could be potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, years and years of uncovering who it is, and going to trial," said Professor Wheeler.

In his statement, the superintendent provided examples of these malicious attacks, like the release of private and protected student information; stalking of employees; lewd, sexual comments about employees; and the list goes on. He even refers to it all as "nothing short of cyber terrorism," but that's a term not everyone agrees with.

"Online comments can be cruel and hurtful and words do hurt sometimes, but I think it is dangerous to call this terrorism of any kind," said Professor Wheeler.

In the end, it's a lengthy process as the comments continue online.

The school district hopes to move forward with litigation, locating IP addresses that would point them at who is posting what the superintendent calls "defamatory" comments.

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