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Bus company threatens to sue Reddit moderator over bad press

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Most people have had bad bus rides—is there such thing as a good one?—but one redditor has endured a ride from hell. A user by the name of NegatedVoid was threatened with a lawsuit after helping moderate a thread on Reddit that was critical of Suburban Express, a bus company in the Chicago area that caters to college students.

The Reddit discussion was spurred by a  Facebook post and story in the University of Illinois student paper that described an incident when a Suburban Express driver belittled an exchange student. A graduate student, Jeremy Leval, witnessed the incident and told the driver his language was "offensive and unnecessary." Later on, he went to Facebook to express his disgust with the company. More than 700 users shared the post and it was liked more than 600 times.

Not among those fans was Suburban Express, which emailed Leval four days later saying he was banned from the bus line for life and was being fined $500 for “liquidated damages,” part of the company's terms of service.

Leval is not the first rider to be banned for life because of things posted on the Internet. In the past, Suburban Express has tracked down Yelp reviewers and banned them when the bus company received a less than perfect review.

“The company tracked down my posting information and banned me from using the bus again because I wrote an unfavorable review,” wrote Teej T. in June 2010. "Now, see, I was trying to give it a third and final chance, and you wont' let me do that, Suburban Express. I recognize it's your own company to do as you see fit, but I also feel that is incredibly petty and a bad business move."

The Facebook post and poor Yelp reviews spilled over into discussions of the bus company on Reddit’s r/uiuc, a subreddit dedicated to the University of Illinois—the subreddit even featured a warning to readers not to use Suburban Express. Late last week, NegatedVoid, one of the moderators of r/uiuc,  received a letter in the mail from James Long, a lawyer representing the bus company.

“It's my client's understanding that you are the moderator of this thread and not only are you personally publishing false and libelous information about my client, but you are allowing false and libelous posting about my client's business operations despite clear knowledge on your part that the materials are untruthful,” the letter reads, before concluding that if the posts were not taken down by April 27, the bus company would sue.

NegatedVoid responded to the lawyer and duplicated his response in a Reddit thread. In it he explained that he was one of many moderators and editors in control of the subreddit and that he didn’t believe anything posted had been false or libelous.

After responding to the lawyer, NegatedVoid posted that he received a letter from Long, who admits he did not know a lot about Reddit, saying the bus company was not going to sue.

But dropping one lawsuit doesn't mean Suburban Express's attorneys aren't busy. Since 1994, the bus company has filed 209 lawsuits, 84 of which were before 2013, according to The Daily Illini. Since last Monday, lawsuits filed against its riders have increased from 44 to 125—among them, Leval, the graduate student behind the original Facebook posting.

Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III, Photo by James Woo