Posting in Government
The problem is, there is no rule for when anonymous posts cross the line from being Thomas Paine to a pain courts must excise. There is, in fact, no line.
No one knows what the rules are online.
(This delicious dish, from the blog Janet is Hungry, contains the name of the anonymous blogger. Given the desire of everyone in this case for publicity, I'd rather have the filet.)
In the offline world Americans have a First Amendment and a tradition of anonymous speech from before the Federalist Papers. In the online world people have been suing to unmask one another's identity since the first spam attack.
In the financial world such suits have their own acronym -- SLAPP. A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation may be filed against a named individual, but it may also be filed against an online service protecting an anonymous blogger or site commenter.
California tried to pass a law against such suits 10 years ago, but it only applies in California and the flood of lawsuits has not abated. The whole question of when and how to unmask an anonymous blogger is becoming a legal specialty onto itself.
This is serious. Americans have actually gone to jail over blog posts.
Personally I always blog under my real name, and so far as I know there is only one of me, thanks to an Irish mother who stuck a Polish personal name onto my father's German surname. I also try to censor myself, with limited success, and I accept the possible consequences as a matter of the ethics I learned in journalism school.
As for everyone else, I accept the legitimacy of arguments by people who wish to post or blog anonymously at face value. I believe such posts have less legitimacy than what is written under a real name, but I also understand it may be the only way to blow the whistle against a nefarious corporation or truly skanky pseudo-friend.
IP numbers can be traced, and so some, like Peter Kafka of The Wall Street Journal, claim online speech has no real legal protection at all.
Where the line is depends on how much you're willing to invest in outing a blogger, then pursuing them in court, and how willing a judge is to let you do so. In the present case I doubt Google has much to worry about -- everyone is getting their 15 minutes of fame.
I am not suggesting that we all put on our powdered wigs and head to Philadelphia. But if someone in authority would at least provide guidance on what the proper policy is, and the rest of us chimed in on what such a policy should be, someone could write an anti-SLAPP statute that sticks.
Oh, and if you want the URL skanksnyc.blogspot.com, it's available.
Aug 24, 2009
The Federal Anti-SLAPP Project (FASP) has written and is working to secure passage of federal legislation that would protect against SLAPPs. As Mr. Blankenhorn notes, SLAPPs are meritless lawsuits arising from free speech or petition activity. Unlike most lawsuits, they are not brought to "win" in court, but rather to use the expensive and time-consuming litigation process as a means of harassment and intimidation. SLAPPs against internet posters are so common they have a name - CyberSLAPPs. CyberSLAPPs are frequently couched as claims of defamation or trademark infringement. They also come in the form of subpoenas to seek an anonymous blogger's identity. Oscar Wilde said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth" - and he was right. It's true that people sometimes use the cover of anonymity to post irresponsible and false things on the internet. But it is also true that anonymous speech is a time honored tradition in this country, and the freedom to speak anonymously is a critical component of First Amendment rights. Courts should refuse to unveil an anonymous poster's identity without applying some minimum safeguards: Giving the poster a chance to respond to the subpoena, and requiring the plaintiff to make a showing of minimum merit in the underlying claim are two good safeguards. Courts in a few jurisdictions -- New Jersey and Maryland, to name two, have set forth a series of factors a judge must weigh before revealing an anonymous poster's identity. FASP?s legislation, the Citizen Participation in Government and Society Act, allows only those with meritorious claims - those who have been damaged by a post and who can rightfully seek recovery of those damages - to go forward in unmasking a poster's identity. Under the law, those who bring meritless claims to use the unmasking process as a method of intimidation cannot go forward with their claims, and must pay the attorney?s fees incurred by the poster in fighting the subpoena. For the text of the bill, see www.anti-slapp.org. For more information, please contact Samantha Brown, legislative director, at sb[at]anti-slapp[dot]org.
Great post gentleman. And great recipe. It is interesting that so many posts on this topic centered around what can legally be "gotten away with" with respect to anonymous blogging. I am encouraged however that there seems to be a rising public awareness and outrage to the downside of the privilege of anonymous speech, typically as it relates to the Internet. I have found that most people, including judges, can be very dismissive with respect to these types of lawsuits suggesting that they are petty and should not be clogging up the legal system. However I submit that, until somebody has personally, or through someone they love, experienced the debilitating anguish that comes from being at the receiving end of a malicious and relentless Internet smear campaign, they simply cannot relate to the pain it causes. I am passionately committed to raising public awareness to this 21st- century pandemic which is executed by the immoral minority, but afforded a very loud voice through the accessibility and universal availability of blogging technologies. I like to tell "future victims" of Internet libel that their careers, job prospects, family, and emotional well-being can be devastated by a targeted Internet smear campaign by an unknown blogger as thoroughly as a farmer who has his livestock destroyed and barns and fields burned. I have walked this fiery road personally, it was vocationally and emotionally debilitating. My antagonist has subsequently been jailed for unrelated crimes which seems to be distracting the individual from labeling me. Fortunately I was able to turn adversity into opportunity and now earn a modest living assisting Internet libel victims and their attorneys. However, I would much rather get a real job if the public developed what I would like to call a "repulse reflex" for the garbage that is posted on the Internet. Respectfully submitted, Michael Roberts. Anonymous blogger bounty hunter. Www.Rexxfield.com