The Internet has numbed us all to insults. That's what's so scandalous about the news that J.P. Weichel, a 40-year-old Colorado man, could land in prison for calling his ex-girlfriend a whore.
In most states, libel is a civil matter, not a criminal one; but Colorado's laws are archaic. Even so, criminal prosecution for libel are on the rise. 13 cases have been filed this year, six times the rate that prevailed from 1965 to 2002. Of course, the Internet's to blame: The seeming anonymity of the Web makes it a natural forum for venting.
That's what Weichel told police he was doing when he wrote on Craigslist that his ex-girlfriend, with whom he was locked in a battle for custody of their daughter, had engaged in child abuse and performed sexual favors for the services of her attorney.
Most people shrug this kind of thing off. If you dare to do so much as post a comment on a message board, someone's likely to call you a piece of shit, for sheer entertainment value. It's become an expected part of life on the Internet. Websites generally aren't responsible for their users' postings, and tracking down a virtual offender is a tedious chore.
Indeed, if we could just find these digital blackguards, we could reach back in time for a solution: dueling. Remember when we handled slights to our honor with pistols at dawn? So much less messy without lawyers involved. And the emergency rooms are great at handling gunshot wounds these days.