Friday, June 4, 2010

Ill. Appellate Court Orders Paper to Identify Anonymous Blogger

Downtown Ottawa, Illinois, USA.Image via Wikipedia
The Ottawa, Illinois-based Third District Appellate Court ruled 2-1 this week to order The Times to produce information disclosing the identity of an anonymous commenter on its Website so that a couple could pursue a defamation claim against the pseudonymous blogger.

The Third District Appellate Court, whose jurisdiction includes 21 counties in central and northern Illinois, held that bed & breakfast proprietors Donald & Janet Maxon showed sufficient grounds for defamation to peel away any constitutional protections accorded the unnamed blogger to make anonymous comments on the daily newspaper's Website.  That libelous speech is not shielded by the First Amendment is well-established by case law.  The appellate court further noted that the anonymous blogger's comments were couched as fact, not opinion, the latter of the two being a valid defense to defamation.

In 2008, FabFive from Ottawa twice posted comments alleging that the Maxons bribed members of the Ottawa Plan Commission as part of the couple's efforts to change the municipality's bed & breakfast ordinances so that they could expand the number of rooms in their establishment. The Times publisher John Newby declined to identify the screen name account holder without a court order, and the Maxons appealed a circuit court judge's dismissal of their action to the Third District Appellate Court.

A dissenting justice wrote that no reasonable person would construe the anonymous remarks as factual.  Those filing friends of the court brief supporting the preservation of the blogger's anonymity included The Gannett Co., the Hearst Corp., and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Times is owned by the Small Newspaper Group, Inc., and is the product of a 2005 merger of  The (Ottawa) Daily Times and The (Streator) Times-Press.

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1 comment:

  1. A problem here will be that the IP address logs will have already perished after 2 years. Unless the blogger used his/her regular email address, it will be tough to identify the antagonist.

    There are ways to solve this dilemma with digital forensics, but it takes some serious scenario planning.

    The cost of free speech is great, particularly on the internet due to the absence of journalistic checks and balances. Unfortunately, such as it is, this tremendous right is subject to misuse. A blog that damages someone who is guiltless must by no means be accepted, the toll is too expensive.

    Still, there are lots of antisocial antagonists who apply this freedom for destructive purposes. Often these anonymous bottom dwellers possess some variety of antisocial (identified as sociopaths in past years) or a related Axis II Mental Disorder, & are driven only through hatred & vengeful, sadistic impulses. They have nothing better to do than hurt other people; they're in fact driven by other people's pain; the victim's desperate attempts to escape is their twisted prize. Normal folk such as 90-97% of people this column can't consider what drives these people. I challenge you to stop for a moment, try to imagine having no conscience.... it is plainly inconceivable.

    This condemnable social issue has become out of control within the preceding 10 years and manifested itself primarily through anonymous online libel. There have been instances in which courts issued orders insisting that anonymous and anti-social blog authors are to be unmasked to the libel victim, such orders are frequently followed by protests by a small but noisy breed of rabid proponents that assume that free speech should be absolute and unconditional and a speaker shouldn't be held to account for his or her utterances, irrespective as to nobility or maliciousness behind the statements. Some presume that should these same noisy pundits were to experience the paralyzing impact of a online smear campaign and the emotional, physical, vocational, and social well-being of victims or their family; they wouldn't be as boisterous in their protests.

    An inherent aspect of anonymous allegations is that credibility is reduced if seriously assessed by shrewd and open-minded people. Nonetheless, there is a newfangled dynamic with the predicament of ruthless and anonymous internet libel. While this rhetoric will be seen for what it is, if the target is to be assessed for a job, consulting applications, Girl Guide leadership (or a prom partner), the person conducting the background check will probably look at the potential PR risks associated with associating with the victim. While the prospective employer is probably able to see beyond the vitriol, the decision maker needs to wonder about what their customers and partners will imagine if less sophisticated & open-minded.

    Mike from Rexxfield

    We should consider what J.F Kennedy said in the early 60s: "The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society", this applies as much to secret but nasty cyberbullies as it does to the secret societies he eluded to.