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.