Recent decisions about libel and anonymity on the net

Submitted by Jeff Schuler on Sun, 08/23/2009 - 21:20.

Check out Cleveland blogger Erin O'Brien's post, A beautiful comeuppance, on a Manhattan Supreme Court judge's decision to require Google to reveal the identity of a [previously anonymous] blogger found guilty of defamation, having called a semi-famous fashion model a “a psychotic, lying, whoring, still going to clubs at her age, skank.”

See The First Amendment rights of anonymous defamers for a bit more on the legal precedents involved.

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Great news for victims of malicious anonymous bloggers

Although anonymous speech is a wonderful thing if used for good, it is abused far too much on the Internet. Accessibility to cloaked venues allowing malicious and libelous speech is all too accessible and the legal system struggles to keep up. Furthermore, judges and the general community are unable to relate to how much anguish and destruction is caused by this medium. Often there will be flippant and dismissive responses by objective third parties who cannot relate to the pain.

I'm hoping that other jurisdictions will adopt New York's persuasive precedent in this issue and begin opening the doors to common sense relief and justice for victims who have had their careers either destroyed or severely damaged as a result of the cowardly and immoral minority who abuse this otherwise wonderful medium.

Michael Roberts Internet Libel Victim's Advocate and  Anonymous blogger bounty hunter.

Judge and Google screwed up in revealing blogger's identity

First off, the comment from the purported Victim's Advocate (below/above this comment) is spam, but it is right on topic.  Additionally, the comment is informing in that it demonstrates that new areas of business are being established around anonymity – and outing anonymity.   
Secondly, I think Google made a mistake in releasing the name of the blogger (among the mistakes Google appears to have made - present law requires that the anonymous blogger be notified and have the opportunity to quash – I did not see this opportunity provided in any of the news reports I have read).
Thirdly,  in my opinion  Single New York Supreme Court Judge Justice Joan Madden did not apply existing law protecting anonymous speech correctly.  
In the 2005 Delaware Supreme Court decision the Court discussed different standards for removing anonymity.  
“substantial harm may come from allowing a plaintiff to compel the disclosure of an anonymous defendant’s identity by simply showing that his complaint can survive a motion to dismiss or that it was filed in good faith. As we intimated in Ramunno, a summary judgment proceeding can dispense with weak or even “silly” libel cases before trial
(but even then only after significant expense and anxiety to the parties). Applying a
summary judgment standard to a public figure defamation plaintiff’s discovery
request to obtain an anonymous defendant’s identity will more appropriately
protect against the chilling effect on anonymous First Amendment internet speech
that can arise when plaintiffs bring trivial defamation lawsuits primarily to harass
or to unmask their critics.”
If Judge Madden had applied a “summary judgment” standard (which from the facts I read it doesn’t appear Madden did), the blogger’s anonymity would have remained protected.  
Perhaps on a motion for summary judgment the anonymous blogger could have demonstrated that the “accusations” were either silly, trivial, or true.    If the type of comments which the blogger made are libelous, then every school yard bout of namecalling would be slanderous.    Come on, we have all heard more seriouls insults yelled publicly at sports figures and politicians.
One absolute defense against libel is if the statement(s) is/are true.   Calling someone “a psychotic, lying, whoring, still going to clubs at her age, skank.” may actually be a statement which is true. Maybe Liskula Cohen is a “skank” – who knows?
I’ll wager that Google will end up compensating Rosemary Port, the outed blogger (provided Port maintains competent legal counsel and goes after Google).
On the facts that I have today, this looks like bad precedent.