Newspaper Must Unmask Anonymous Commenter

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7 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    The opinion includes an actual political cartoon. First time I saw that. As to the merits, the analysis provided here is appreciated & I seem to agree with it as a whole.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I respectfully disagree that “blogs may overzealously remove comments that impart any risk of litigation…”

    With very limited exceptions, websites are immune from liability. The Communications Decency Act provides, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

    If blogs police user-generated content, it is not out of fear of liability, but perhaps to demonstrate their good faith effort to censor defamatory comment. This is admirable, but unnecessary.

    I also find it interesting that you note how some believe that “anonymous comments are pesky, cowardly, and usually less worthwhile…” Let us reflect on the constitutional debates, where pseudonyms such as Federal Farmer, Publius, and A Landholder were instrumental in framing the issues and contributing to political discourse.

  3. Erica Goldberg says:

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Although websites may be immune from liability, they do not want to deal with subpoenas forcing them to disclose all communications with particular anonymous commenters, as occurred in this case.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on the value of anonymous speech in political debates. I often wonder, however, how much anonymous speech serves the truth-seeking function.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for responding Erica.

    I was trying to make the point that I see no reason, economic or legal, for a website to police content that has already been published.

    Take this case, for example. The newspaper removed the defamatory content hours after it was published. Not only was this legally unnecessary, but it was economically inefficient. The newspaper paid an employee to remove the content, and then incurred costs in dealing with the subpoena (and in attempting to quash the subpoena).

    If a website wanted to avoid dealing with subpoenas, it would only make sense for the website to police content before it was uploaded. (Assuming this technology exists). However, this would have a chilling effect on speech since the website would be exercising editorial control over what comments were acceptable.

    Given the importance of unrestricted speech, why not require the defamation plaintiff to compensate the website for all costs incurred in responding to the subpoena?

  5. Ken Rhodes says:

    I am somewhat bemused by this issue. I try to be courteous in my correspondence, even when I disagree strongly with another correspondent. I try to attack ideas, not people. And I sign everything I write.

    If I were inclined to behave differently, well … I would just use a plausible pseudonym. There’s no audit or verification of the name I fill into that box on the blog.

  6. “There’s no audit or verification of the name I fill into that box on the blog.”

    Quite right, Ken. But how do we know “Ken Rhodes” is itself not an alias?

    BTW, is that your true identity stuffed inside your wallet?

  7. nidefatt says:

    http://www.volokh.com/2012/07/12/staggering-chutzpah-sanctions-upheld/

    I think this article describes what’s going on here. Kootenai County is a small place with an extremely irritable population, where “Republican” has many meanings and each mini group hates the others with a passion for being false believers. This is likely an attempt to see if it’s a political enemy, and if so, to bring ruin to them. Not a particularly good use for the courts.