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Anon-person Will Get Day in Court

A midwestern judge has ruled an anonymous commenter must be identified by the newspaper website where s/he posted defamatory remarks.

Things are looking up for people who sign their full names when posting online comments and, for their troubles, get blind-sided by people who use pseudonyms to hide their true identities so they can post nasty comments about other individuals without owning up to it. That rabid breed is known as anon-persons, defined as creatures who can't accept responsibility for their own words or deeds and so play the "Who, me?" card by provoking and turning tail in the same bad breath.

Sometimes, the nasty comments border on libel or character defamation, absent any evidence, or, for that matter, any consequences for the attacker when the allegation is patently false, as usually it is.

Just as shouting "Fire!" in a crowded public space is not freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, trying to damage someone's reputation and personal good will is an abuse of freedom of speech and what must be protected is the right of the aggrieved party to take action.

[To read more click here]

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Miguel Hernandez July 19, 2012 at 12:22 PM
I sure hope the judge's ruling is held up should it be challenged. In any event, many newspapers require that letter writers submit their true names to them and they appear at the close of the letter. I don't know if this then requires them to submit the letter writer's address and other identifying data in the event a plaintiff's lawyer. demands it. I have some questions in this regard. For instance, did the newspaper have a standing policy of accepting anonymous letters such that the letter writer had reasonable expectation to believe that his identity was protected? So can he sue ?Also, can a person claiming to be materially harmed by a letter writer also sue the paper for claiming that the paper aided and abetted the liar . As far as i understand in the United States, the person caliming to be harmed by a newspaper or another person first must prove that the statement was false. Second, that person must prove that the statement caused harm. And, third, they must prove that the statement was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. But does the published statement even if proven false and harmful also mean that the publisher bears guilt? In our litgeous society it seems to me that any entity who has the least bit of connection to a civil suit is a co-defendant and has to respond and quite often settle, just to limit their exposure.
Bruce Apar July 19, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Miguel, the criteria you cite pertains to libel, not necessarily the same for defamation of character. Websites operated by responsible companies will remove excessively inflammatory rhetoric (as does AOL's Patch), almost always posted by anon-persons full of bravado and empty of chops. The particular place someone chooses to comment is without motive or free will -- an inanimate object like a website or gun doesn't cause someone to act, only provides an opportunity to be productive or to shoot yourself in the foot. Would you hold U.S.P.S. responsible as a co-defendant for anthrax mailed through its system, or phone carriers complicit in illegal prank calls, or a gun manufacturer guilty as an accomplice to a convicted felon? Anonymous posts intended to harass and defame others are analogous to anonymous prank calls or anonymous hate mail, both punishable under U.S. law. (According to askthejudge.info, "Prank calling is illegal in most states as it is often considered a form of harassment, stalking or bullying.") That a coward can think s/he can maliciously attack anybody (whether online, phone or mail) under protection of anonymity is precisely the point: it's not freedom of speech, but abuse of freedom of speech, as the judge wrote, for the express purpose of harming another. It doesn't always take bodily contact to assault somebody. Denigrating a reputation and undermining a livelihood at times can prove more damaging and irreparable than a physical altercation.

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