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Psychologist, attorney warn of dangers of libelous posts on social media

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GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

It was a controversial story that turned into a social media firestorm.

"It just went viral," said Greenwood District 52 Superintendent Dr. Mark Petersen.

What began as a fun pep rally and pig rodeo at Ninety-Six High School spawned accusations against Greenwood School District 52 of animal abuse.

Comments on Facebook said the pig was spiked down and had broken bones.

Petersen said he received hundreds of scathing responses from animal rights activists from around the world.

"For a few who weren't there to take it out of context ... this thing went viral," he said. "I responded to over 200 of them that weekend."

A vet found the pig was not seriously hurt at the rodeo, but the superintendent says the Facebook rumor mill continued.

It seems to be a growing trend: People ganging up on each other in the comments sections - no real confrontation, just conjecture, said Dr. Roger Rhoades.

"How sad that is, that I can't just freely open up a comment section," said Rhoades. "If I do that, they're going to say something inappropriate."

Rhoades, a clinical psychologist in Spartanburg, said he has noticed a growing trend of meanness online; perfect strangers berating each other on the web or spreading rumors all because of a difference of opinion or personal spat that spills over to the internet - where it is written in ink. He said anonymity is the poster's most addicting power.

"If i can get you to go, 'Well, huh, maybe he's got something there,' well, basically what you're saying is 'Well, maybe he is something.' I had no value, but I've now met you, and you've given me some value. Wow, what a power trip," said Rhoades.

Greenville attorney Grant Varner said while libel suits from social media cross his desk all the time, "about 95 percent of the phone calls we get regarding defamation - slander and libel - are from a 25 and under audience," said Varner. "It's all usually regarding a Facebook comment that spread like wildfire."

"In front of the right judge or jury, these people could certainly be held liable for what they wrote," Varner said.

Copyright 2014 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

 

 

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