Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says he and some of his officers have been harassed, lied about, and had their identities falsely used in online blogs and in reader comment sections on local media Internet sites. They’ve had enough, says the Austin American-Statesman. They have researched their legal options and might launch formal investigations into such posts, Acevedo said. He said investigators might seek search warrants or subpoenas from judges to learn the identities of the authors – he thinks some could be department employees – and possibly sue them for libel or file charges if investigators think a crime was committed.
“A lot of my people feel it is time to take these people on,” Acevedo said. “They understand the damage to the organization, and quite frankly, when people are willfully misleading and lying, they are pretty much cowards anyway because they are doing so under the cloak of anonymity.” The effort to crack down on potentially illegal statements or comments that are possibly libelous – those published with the goal of defaming a person – is the second time in recent months that the department has confronted new social media. In March, the social networking site Twitter shut down a fake account that pretended to issue official Austin police bulletins after the department and the Texas attorney general’s office complained. University of Texas law Prof. David Anderson said the hosts of sites where potentially libelous comments are posted are granted immunity by federal laws. Those who post comments can still be sued, however.