In a twisting and intercontinental case of "mad online", an American psychiatrist practising in Tokyo has filed a defamation suit against Redditors who derogated his services. In a suit filed in Florida, Dr Douglas Berger is seeking damages in excess of $US15,000 ($19,038), alleging libel and defamation after anonymous commenters called him a "scam artist" and "f**king maniac". Reddit is named as a defendant in the suit. A GoFundMe page has been created to help the Redditors, unnamed in Dr Berger's complaint, to pay for legal fees.
Comments disparaging Dr Berger's services on Reddit date back to 2014. As have his retorts.
Since then, Dr Berger has developed a degree of notoriety among commenters in the R/Japan and R/JapanLife threads. His own suit charts this unpopularity, as it includes the multiple threads created in the past few years to warn people from the Meguro Counseling Center where he is the director.
From the Reddit thread recapping the suit:
"PSA: Stay away from 'psychiatrist' Doug Berger", "Avoid Dr. Douglas Berger for therapy", "Avoid Dr. Douglas Berger for therapy (x-post /r/japan)", "Counseling in Tokyo - Questions and Recommendation Needed", "Good psychiatrist in Tokyo?", "XPOST with /r/Japan - our annual PSA: Stay away from 'psychiatrist' Doug Berger ", and "AVOID Douglas Berger."
So what have people been saying? The suit includes an exhaustive 80 pages of Reddit threads and comments over the years where commenters have written that Dr Berger is a "fucking maniac," a "piece of shit", a "scam artist" who allegedly fell asleep during a Skype session and then refused to offer a refund, and that he allegedly made sexist comments to female patients, telling one woman she would "be basically worthless after [she] lost her looks".
To argue a defamation case, Berger would have to first, identify the commenters, and second, prove that what they posted about him was untrue. As Techdirt points out, the vast majority of these comments are simply opinions, and stated as such. That he was rude or unhelpful likely won't fit bill.
Comments alleging misconduct are different, however. Some comments call Dr Berger "negligent", a legal term that, if true, would mean Berger has violated obligations to the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Another said he "uses Paypal to avoid paying taxes". Those are potentially crimes and posting them without attribution or proof isn't protected.
In addition to damages exceeding $US15,000 ($19,038), Dr Berger wants Reddit to remove the disparaging threads and make sure they're no longer indexed on search engines such as Google and Bing. Searching phrases like "Roland Berger Japan" in Google surfaces threads warning people to stay away, which the suit argues costs both him and Meguro thousands in business.
To identify the commenters, Dr Berger is asking Reddit for personal information on the commenters, including their names, emails, IP addresses, dates of birth, and even their zip codes. Without knowing who to file suit against, the lawsuit is unlikely to proceed. We've reached out to Reddit for comment on its next move but had not heard back at time of writing.