Project Management

Woman sues to have name of anonymous web poster revealed

A woman sues a daily newspaper for an anonymous comment made in the discussion forum. She also wanted the name of the anonymous commenter exposed. What happens with this case and others like it could shape the future of online forums.

A woman sues a daily newspaper for an anonymous comment made in the discussion forum. She also wanted the name of the anonymous commenter exposed. What happens with this case and others like it could shape the future of online forums.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was once illegal to drive your car through Crete, Illinois. Of course, that law was enacted back when automobiles were new and the legislators felt the need to protect its citizens with such a danger. Back then, of course, new things didn't come along that often.

Today, something new comes along about every 6 seconds. The technology that seems likely to change quite a few laws these days is online communication.

A case in point: Last year, the Richmond Register (a daily newspaper in Richmond, KY) ran an article about a young woman who had been kicked out of a mall because the dress she was wearing (one she'd actually purchased at the mall) was too short. An anonymous poster in the online discussion after the article made the statement that she'd actually been kicked out because she'd exposed herself to a woman and her children.

The dress wearer filed a defamation lawsuit against the poster and subpoenaed the newspaper for the name of the anonymous poster. And the battle is on. The paper is claiming that the anonymous source is proteced under the Kentucky Reporter's Shield Law (the law that protects journalists from having to disclose confidential sources of published information). They chose this defense because a staff reporter wrote something about the lawsuit and mentioned the offending comment in his piece.

Legal experts say this kind of lawsuit can only become more common, what with web sites allowing posters almost complete freedom in what they say. Also, laws that were created during an age when the Internet didn't exist are being applied to this new medium of information. Here are a couple examples of recent lawsuits:

  • The U.S. attorney's office in Las Vegas recently demanded the identities of everyone who wrote on the Review-Journal's site about a criminal tax trial in progress.
  • In May, Missouri newspaper the Alton Telegraph was ordered to provide authorities with the names of two people who commented online about an ongoing murder investigation. (In that case, the judge rejected the Shield law defense, saying it did not extend to sources used by online bloggers.)

The media is taking this threat seriously. Some newspapers, including the Maui News in Hawaii, have stopped allowing readers to comment anonymously because of sexist and racist comments. Even large newspapers like The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune have occasionally suspended online commentary when the posting became extremely inflammatory.

Here's the line that is straddled: We have the right to free speech in the U.S., but what responsibility does the "host" of such free speech bear when it becomes illegal? If a business owner can be held accountable in a sexual harrassment lawsuit filed because of the actions of one of his employees, then does a web site have to be held to the same accountability for postings to its web site?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

60 comments
douglasgross
douglasgross

Just another frivolous law suit from another stupid person. If she can't handle reading comments on the Internet, she shouldn't even have a computer. The Internet is no place for sensitive wimps. There are people on the Internet that thrive on inciting others. They are called trolls. While they are nuisance, there is no need to be legalistic, and I get the feeling this dummy (name-calling here) wants to learn that the hard way.

lewinskys
lewinskys

Before I can make any judgement on this topic, I need clear Photographic proof of this said"Short Skirt". This is only to create a clear concise opinion. After all, How can we accuse either way without actually seeing. :D

jimdrvr99
jimdrvr99

Since the word dummy is mentioned does that mean the author of that name calling is a TROLL. As to the subject at hand, we all have a responsibilty of what we say, how we say it and to we say it to. Even a single word can incite a riot, but new laws must be created to govern the reasons for such lawsuits. In this case I agree with you meaning, if she can't handle a comment then let her learn the hard way. I say don't hate theres enough of that in the world as it is.

SamuelTime
SamuelTime

I can name that tune in one word. SAD. An attitude like your is indeed SAD. If someone was lying and slandering you? You would be upset, no matter what the medium was. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is certainly not the conduct of many people today. When people become so rude and unkind to one another, then why is anyone surprised at anything? This woman was slandered, and for any person to lie anonomously tells us something about the person who posted the lie. They are liers. Pure and simple. If you spoke the lie in public and witnesses heard it, you are liable. Rather than calling the woman stupid and frivolous, you should look in the mirror and analyze your attitude. Be kind to one another . . . and peace will be with you.

interpoI
interpoI

I agree....people get so worked up over the littlest things. The person making "Slanderous statements" in this case are more then likely just jealous because they aren't able to wear a short skirt such as the accused was. I also agree that I'd need to see photographic proof of the skirt as well. :)

brisky
brisky

I fully agree on this opinion, we cannot take any part without facts and proofs. Well, probably you'd think we Europeans and different and bla, bla, bla. But what I can take from this, is that you guys over react on these things, I also think that probably we under react, but if this lady provoked somehow just for walking on the mall, with a sexy dress, so what?! If she was on the street, would it be the same? Or did she undressed on the mall??? Probably the lady with the kids, did provoke her and she responded. Then it happened. What I can take from this, is that, nowadays every stupid event can be on newspapers, and probably will sell. SADLY, that's to blame. Why people bother with these things?? Get a life!

BeltwayTech
BeltwayTech

Jim, Agree with you on the point that we must take responsibility for what we say (or write). I do disagree with you on the need for a new law. However in the case at hand, there is no need for a new law. The legal standard for defamation is clear regardless of how the injury is delivered. One should not have to endure libel or slander just because technology offers some form of anonymity.

The Truth
The Truth

meaning anything said that you don't agree with?

deepsand
deepsand

The post to which I replied states "[i]If Obama and the extreme left have their way, free speech will disappear by the end of his second term. NO,I'm not a right-wing nut. I'm one of those who voted for Carter and remember what we got in return.[/i]" Such statement offers nothing more than an [b]unsubstantiated opinion[/b].

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

The proof you requested is contained in the post. Feel free to attempt to refute Obamas actions if you like.

Draygonia
Draygonia

Because I don't use religious figures :) Exactly right, people just want to make a buck. I salute your absolutely correct statement.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Great post, but the states have powers not rights. Only people have rights, despite the fact that the SPCA wants to delegate them to animals and everything else under the sun. I just wanted to clear that up so those of us who realize we still have - and always will have - those God given unalienable rights, will never let a state have one iota more power than is absolutely necessary to maintain a free society.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Yes, this is a forum for tech. But it's also a forum for [u]techs[/u]. We discuss tech issues and propose solutions. When people ask questions, we provide answers. We discuss issues in the news (such as that at the top of this discussion). We have opinions, we express them. Your opinions are welcome...unless, of course, I don't like them! ;) ;\ If you find the Discussions irritating, you may be happier over in the Questions forums.

griff.computerservices@ve
griff.computerservices@ve

Maybe it's just me. But, is this a forum for tech-savvy folks, or an outlet for venting pent up *political* rhetoric? Ease up guys and stick with (hopefully) you know best. The mutual exchange of tech-related information should be the *only* criteria here (IMHO).

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I said no text. Why are you looking?

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

No, no attacks, except for ... the following Amendments... 1st - setting up the FCC with a clear route to the fairness doctrine in an effort to overtuen freedom of the press, and intimidation of individuals who disagree with him, recall the unwarranted investigations of "Joe the Plumber"? 2nd - Promises to protect gun owners rights then letting Congress have free riegn to do so, including opening the way for states to violate the 2nd Amendment at will. 4th - Retaining many of the same systems and policies that the left chided Bush for using that clearly violate the right to personal security of information. 5th & 6th Amendments, Obama nominated a Judge to the SCOTUS, who has plainly stated that bigotry is acceptable and that law comes in second to personal preference. 10th Amendment, Obama wants the states to retain their rights, except whenever they fail to meet his approval, when Federal Law prevails. (Cap & Trade, expansion of Federal Government, Unelected "CZARS" who are empowered to make public policy, but who answer to no one.)

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

Obama? Responsible? Not hardly? He has promised us more debt than ever before in this nations history, shown a weak national defense policy, violated the peoples trust on domestic policy...and still spouts the BS that this is all due to a debt he inherited from Bush. He's not taking responsibility, he is rebuffing it and working on a plan for plausable deniability.

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

Some facts that most people overlook. Obama was elected by "default". I say this based on the numbers. Only 63% of eligible voters went to the polls, of that Obama garnered 52% of the vote, many of which were cast by Republicans who got fed up with "big spending" by the Republicans in Government. So in reality Obama was elected by 32% of the electorate, many of whom did not vote "for Obama" as much as they voted "against Bush". This combined with the fact that there was actual voter fraud documented puts Obama far away from being the overwhelming favorite with a national mandate to do whatever he wishes. His current poll numbers indicate that unless a miracle occurs, Obama will be Jimmy Carter all over again and the control of government in 2010 and 2012 will return to Conservatives if not Repubs.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]The truth is that by world standards the "far left" of US politics is still on the far right side of european politics i.e.[/i] The truth is that the only place the "true believers" are 100% correct is in their own minds. [i]So fox calls the "left" communists for wanting a 5% taxincrease thats not communism, thats making up for 8years of spending more than you erned..[/i] So how big a tax increase do we need now to make up for the current [u]increased[/u] rate of spending more than the government earned?

adakar_sg
adakar_sg

This is one of the things european people hate about the US You think eighter people is left wing extremist og right wing extremist The truth is that by world standards the "far left" of US politics is still on the far right side of european politics i.e. So fox calls the "left" communists for wanting a 5% taxincrease thats not communism, thats making up for 8years of spending more than you erned.. Witch brings me to "Unresponsible spending" i see fox and republicans complain about democrats all the time for unresponsible spending, but if you see the stats for when clinton ran the country.. you made money.. every time you go in minus in reallity you are beein bought out of the US by forgien countries.. Obama was the best thing to happen to the US in a long time.. just think palin was a cardiac arrest away from power.. and that woman wants to sue the internet

Yowye
Yowye

Now thats a great ideal attitude!

RipVan
RipVan

That's what I love about this guy. You can have far fewer rights today than yesterday, and yet the Constitution hasn't been attacked! Worse yet, quisling enforcers run interference for such a mindset, flashing little shiny things around so that no one will catch on...

RipVan
RipVan

...at least, judging by your "mainstream" missive. I think the big problem is the failure of individuals to recognize when THEY are the extreme.

mjolnar
mjolnar

We haven't seen anything other than a quick overview. It was a mean spirited statement, if untrue. It may very well have been said in the hopes of hurting this woman more than had already been done. For all we know, she may have lodged the complaint that got her band from the mall in the 1st place. I have always been a believer that you should be able to confront you accuser. If someone doesn't dare let anyone know who they are, they must not want people to form an opinion of their character. This attitude that she is stupid, if she wants to find out who said this about her, is like the people that say a rape victim must have been at fault because she enticed man. How fair is that?

deepsand
deepsand

Cogitate on that for a while.

deepsand
deepsand

You really didn't think that you were going to get away with such a specious claim unchallenged, did you?

deepsand
deepsand

The suit in question is about what was publicly [b]written[/b] about her, not what the mall staff did or did not do.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

to news reports with photos of her in the dress, it goes to just below mid thigh - hell, most high school girls wear much shorter school uniform skirts on hot days. No mention of panties or not in the original articles - which would indicate she wore them as such a 'juicy' item would have been screamed out by the media.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

responsibility for spending the future of my kids and their kids is due. Kumbaya

Thomw
Thomw

Does this invoke the Obama corollary to Goodwin's Law?

Beilstwh
Beilstwh

Unlike bush who did everything he could do to do away with the bill of rights, Obama has never made any attacks on the constitution.

Beilstwh
Beilstwh

If she was wearing a dress that was so short that she was exposing herself then she should have been asked to leave. Did it mention if she was wearing panties with her micro mini skirt?

alaniane
alaniane

department or business and causes you to either lose clientele or your position then you don't care because they were only lying. The charge made against the woman is of serious nature. She should have the right to face her accuser or the publishing entity should publish a retraction of the charges laid against her. Basically, people should be held accountable for what they say in public forum especially when that forum has global potential.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

It's a waste of time. "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do."

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

is that why you were able to deal with them so successfully?

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

come around to take you away because of them, you won't be upset about it? Hmm, because that's about what the situation is for her.

deepsand
deepsand

That which happens in your work place, and stays in your work place, is neither of the latter, and is therefore not legally actionable. What happens in public, though, is.

alfielee
alfielee

Problem here is that what is mainstream is completely ignored by the mutton-heads who are right-wing. They don't even realise they are far-right bcoz they think that gun-loving, fuel-guzzling, warmongers are the majority. You're wrong & thank the ether you are. The mainstream realise that the world needs to change bcoz what we are doing is destroying the world. Anonymity btw is just a way of being able to damage something without taking responsibility for doing so. Take some responsibility, Obama IS.

alfielee
alfielee

Your use of this medium to roar your manliness is awesome to say the least. I heard you, answered & closed the page in anguish & fear. You are too much man for me to compete with so I retreat in glow of your light. Tool!

JCitizen
JCitizen

to the "enemy"; come on, why do you think there is still an opposition left in Iran? We got friends over there! The left doesn't want [u]anyone[/u] to defend themselves against tyrants. Especially not with guns - it would disprove their agenda to disarm the US. How do you think the Iraqis have been able to keep it together this far? General Petraeus has allowed one AK and at least 100 rounds of ammunition to any civilian household.

lmac1947
lmac1947

I don't give a rat's kazoo about Contras. Illegal is something that politicians live by on both sides of the aisle. Were you also appalled at Clinton getting a knob wash in the Oval Office? In case you haven't noticed, Obama is moving in a direction that will take us so far from our constitution that we may never recover. As a former communications major, I am appalled at the lack of interest in the media to tell the same story about the massive unheard of spending of this administration as they did under W. I was not a fan of W either, but I am a fan of the 1st ammendment. Obama and his buds are starting to chip away at free speech. We may be unable to write like this in the near future. Why is O not giving hell to Iran for putting the protesters to the boot? Why hasn't he said anything with teeth about it. I think this president is a spineless coward. Where is the hard retoric about N. Korea? Show me some guts O!!! In a few years I could be missing in action for writing this. I may be anyway.

Willy MacWindows
Willy MacWindows

Is she going to sue the local Hard Rock Caf? if someone writes about her in their bathroom stall as well? This kind of thing pre-dates the internet, it's just a different medium in which to be humiliated, just far more accesible. Karma sucks sometimes.

smiller987
smiller987

Really, I know that it has become very common for HR folks to Google prospective employees, but this is really a very bad idea. I can easily see the practice eventually becoming the source of a law suit. 1) What is the source of the information discovered? How valid/trustworthy/etc.? 2) Unless you have someone who is the only person in the world with that name, you are going to be getting a slew of information that has nothing to do with your potential employee. Even adding things like city to the search (or any other data) are of little use; I lived in a small town for awhile where I would find 3 or 4 other people who all had my name in that town the same time I lived there. One of them was a member of a knitting club, another was a registered sex offender. I am neither, but an HR person blindly following what comes up on their screen may mistakenly conclude otherwise. Someone trying to do a quick, cheap and easy background check by using Google will get, as the cliche goes, what they pay for. 3) There's nothing to stop anyone posting anything they wish somewhere under any name or username they wish. Even most people have dynamic IPs that get reassigned from time to time (not to mention that there are IP anonymizers available); so even that, if you were to try to use it to tie information to an individual, will not work just by doing a Google search. 4) The information you find may be valid, but legally protected - religious affiliation, political persuasion, sexual orientation, etc. Items that you cannot legally ask about during an interview or an a job application. Why take the risk of discovering things that you cannot legally seek to find about a job applicant? Do your homework, call the references, verify their degrees and certifications, do a criminal background check; any information that you truly need about an applicant can be found by far more reliable means. If you do not want to foolishly turn away talent and expose yourself to legal trouble, stick with what actually works.

jcodrington
jcodrington

The law of Australia is not dissimilar to those of the US, although the in our eyes, the initiation of law suites for "frivolous" reasons in the US seems to be an epidemic plague. You only have to look at the Cessna Aircraft Corporation who suspended the manufacture of Single Engine Aircraft for over a decade due to the exorbitant cost of lawsuits for ridiculous & frivolous claims made by people trying to rort the system and make a quick buck. It was only when the Piper aircraft Corporation took on the woman who made a claim that a Piper Aircraft parked on the side of an Expressway caused her to have an accident, that Piper counter-sued the woman, bankrupted her and sent a clear message, enough is enough don't F**** with us! It's alright if you have the war chest the size of Piper to run a case like this, however when you are a little person with no money, then Justice will be denied to you. Like this Bulletin Board, before I can reply I have to log on, so I can't be anonymous. Post by anonymous person should not be allowed for the very reason this article is being discussed. To make an accusation/allegation about someone without proof, on hearsay is very dangerous territory, and the publisher (the Bulletin Board in this case) runs a real risk of having defamation claim against them for publishing unsubstantiated claims, and they should be sued if the information has not been confirmed with a judgement in a court of law. We have a number of instances in this country where publishers of unsubstantiated information have had to pay out lots of money in damages because of the publishing of unsubstantiated here-say. The publisher has a DUTY OF CARE to the "victim" of an anonymous post to ensure that the allegation has substance. If not, or if the post is considered defamatory and the publisher simply does not have the resources to check the allegation's substance, then don't print/publish it! It is too easy to hide behind pseudonyms and cause personal damage to others. If you have an allegation to make, then publicise who you are instead of being a coward. I support this woman in her actions against the publisher of this information, whether the allegation is right or wrong. It up to a court of law to determine whether the allegation has substance. If it has substance, then have the Police interviewed this person, and if so have they laid charges against her. If not then that says it all.

psmith
psmith

"Sue happy"? Based on what's in this article? Not hardly. You have no information about who the claimant is, what damages such a false statement might cause her, or anything to judge whether her suit is sensible. Folks should wait til the facts are in before jumping to conclusions. Certainly a lot of stupid, frivolous suits are filed....but that in itself doesn't mean all are, or that this particular one is.

psmith
psmith

Actually it's libel, not slander, as it's printed (even if the printing in this case appears on an electronic rather than paper form) not spoken. Clearly there's at least a putative case for a defamation claim, assuming the statement can be shown to have been false and that the party making the statement knew it to be false when it was made. All that aside, whether it's sensible or worthwhile to pursue such suit is another matter altogether. That's a matter which simply cannot be judged from the facts given, as the article is too brief to even begin to suggest what damaged such false statement might have caused the claimant. No one can reasonably conclude from this article the suit is frivolous or stupid. It might well be. But it also might just as easily be sensible and just, too. About all that can be concluded from the article is that there certainly does appear to be grounds for a defamation suit. Anything else is purely speculative and prejudges the case without any basis in fact.

vucliriel
vucliriel

I couldn't agree more... Enough with the legal horse manure, this only profits those who thrive on people's miseries (i.e., lawyers)

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

Your solution would simply expose the anonymous poster - which is what the woman wants in the first place. Once exposed, I am sure she would make the name public. I have a different solution. To begin, I can't imagine any benefit associated with posting an anonymous comment - only downsides. I think it is fine for folks to "submit" anonymous comments to the host site. Based on the content, the host site could then consider to pursue any interesting dimensions introduced by the anonymous comment. The host site could then post - without anonymity - any and all subsequent findings of possible interest. This approach would enable folks fearing retribution to provide potentially insightful information that could trigger appropriate consideration and possible investigation. This solution would separate those who want to do the right thing from the gutless wonders that don't have the courage and accountability to identify themselves and stand firmly behind their words. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

Add up all the ackowledged "extreme Left" voters, then compare that to the overwhemling numbers of voters that voted against the legacy attitudes of the incumbent party. Seems like there were more than a few middle of the road, possibly even a few extreme Right voters that agreed with his policies. The long past conclusion of the election has closed that particular complaint department, The extreme Right overplayed its hand, left the country in shambles and betrayed its own base electorate. The length of this young lady's dress (as noted in the title of the article) is a separate matter. I have yet to see any article where Obama made any comment on her "wardrobe malfunction". Last time I looked, the women, girls and "women of a certain age" in his life do not seem to have a problem dressing appropriate to the occasion or their stage of live. I am not a liberal left fanatic either. I voted for Carter and was appalled to find out the Contra affair, after the fact - which allowed a crucial boost to the opposition. You do know that selling weapons to our enemies is both illegal and an act of treason? A minor detail that is often overlooked when dissecting the administration which followed Carter.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

Lying and slandering. Me, right? Well, I am a boss at my work place so people lie to and slander me or others in front of me AS A RULE! They generally lie to get promoted or to get someone else take the blame for their mistake and they slander others or even myself to get sympathy... So don't worry about that. You have to be reeeeally unimportant not to be lied to and slandered... Hahahahaha! Funny... If I should be upset each time someone lies to me or each time someone does bad things to me I'd be dead already! And if I'd sue everyone who says about me things that aren't true, I'd have to spend all my day in Court. I just feel sorry for that pitifull excuse of a human being and carry on... Forget it!... Life's a nice place to be... Why let all the misfits who don't know why they're here for destroy it?! That woman should try living her life and let others live it too... Her action will lead to no good. That's for sure! ... What if she was thrown out of the mall?!? WHO CARES?!? I mean... haven't you ever been given the finger by someone passing you by on the freeway?? Have you ever sued someone for that?!? Would you ever? Let's live and let live... People do need to take things off their system sometime... We all do... It's not a perfect world and none of us are perfect people... Come on...

lmac1947
lmac1947

If Obama and the extreme left have their way, free speech will disappear by the end of his second term. NO,I'm not a right-wing nut. I'm one of those who voted for Carter and remember what we got in return.

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

If I were accused of a sex crime I would indeed be willing to fight the case in court, but first I would offer the web host the opportunity to put me privately in contact with the blogger, and offer the blogger the opportunity to retract the comment. To not do this would indicate guilt on my part, by acceptance of the initial comment (silence is consent) But equally this woman's apparent desire to publicize her accuser, is little more than a grandstand play by her in an effort to intimidate her accuser into silence. I my prospective employer were to do a search for my name and accept any search results at face value, without further investigation, then the employer is rather shallow and I would not wish to work their anyway.

cdyer
cdyer

The problem with slander is that there can be a financial loss attached to such lies, hence a lawsuit. What she is accused of in the blog is a sex crime in most US jurisdictions. As an employer, I might google prospective employees to gaim more information about them. Would douglasgross or PsiFiScout want prospective employer to read about a sex crime?

bpate
bpate

How do you know the person was lying? You are ASSUMING the person was lying. The previous poster is correct there are too many hypersensitive people in this world. This is just another example of the sue happy americans we have out there!

PsiFiScout
PsiFiScout

I have been attacked many times on the net, on a variety of forums, both for what I have said as opinion, and by people purely making up their own reality about me, but...I do not pursue them through legal channels, nor to I particularly care what they say. I do occasionally refute their accusations, purely as an exercise in logical thought, but I realize that their comments are nothing more than that, their comments! They mean nothing to me and if others choose to believe them, that is their failing.