Another Court Ruling Protects Anonymity Of Online Posters

from the it's-good-to-be-anonymous dept

Time after time after time after time we’ve seen US court defend the right to anonymity of people posting anonymous blogs or comments in forums. In fact, we were a bit disappointed to see a ruling in Texas recently go the other way. However, there are still plenty of other courts willing to recognize that right to anonymity. A Maryland appeals court has agreed that online anonymity is worth protecting — and even set up some interesting guidelines that other courts might follow:

  • Require that plaintiffs notify anonymous parties that their identities are sought.
  • Give the posters time to reply with reasons why they should remain nameless.
  • Require plaintiffs identify the defamatory statements and who made them.
  • Determine whether the complaint has set forth a prima facie defamation, where the words are obviously libelous, or a per quod action, meaning it requires outside evidence.
  • Weigh the poster’s right to free speech against the strength of the case and the necessity of identity disclosure.

All in all, this seems like a reasonable setup, though I tend to think that people are too quick to call certain statements defamatory.

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Comments on “Another Court Ruling Protects Anonymity Of Online Posters”

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AJ says:

Wrong thinking

When I see an anonymous post, the value of the information given is brought into question. If they’re not willing to stand up and put their name on it, it is suspect… at least to me. So, how can one be defamed by a coward who won’t put their name behind what they’re saying? That falls into the category of ‘gossip’ and should be given the respect normally afforded to such.

MM says:

Re: Wrong thinking

You’re post is also anonymous. Just putting your initials on something doesn’t remove the anonymity of it. What they mean by anonymous is any true identifying traits. For example, I have no idea of your phone number or name from your post, because it was done anonymously. Not sure how many more times I can use the anonymous word in one paragraph. That being said, however, should I ignore your entire post on the grounds that you didn’t leave your name, phone number, and address?

Vic says:

Re: Re: Wrong thinking

(1) Intelligent discussion isn’t suppose to be for any win or lose but to further ideas. Even bad ideas can lead to good ideas whereby all ideas should be appreciated — the object of basic free speech. All ideas can be educational, depending on the reader.

(2) Anonymity in computerese may be imposed by editors, moderators, software in use, and likely other factors not readily coming to mind. It’s not necessarily always an authors choice. Personally, I don’t much care whether or not I’m anonymous (my zip code alone 05751-0925 gets mail to nobody but me). Anyone wanting to spend the cost of postage will presumably have intelligence to send, unless he/she has more money (and time) than brains.


Anonymous Coward says:

There are times that a person has more fear of the subject they are commenting on than the subject should fear from the comment.
Example: Many people have been laid off by corporations who are using the economy to get rid of older workers. If they say anything about the unfairness of the practice openly, they will never get another job. Age is already a handicap it appears, so why allow a company to use a comment about it on a post as a reason to not hire or the subject to take away a severance package?

Michael O'Connor (user link) says:

"Anonymity Exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights"

“Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of
entry. Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment….

“Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority…. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill
of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation-and their ideas from suppression-at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.”

United States Supreme Court decision No. 93-986 April 19, 1995

Dr Helen Bright says:


People should have protection from defamation but in the same time whistle blowers do need protection too. In UK at present there are laws to protect whistle blowers but courts ignore them as political agenda gets protection and tribunals are loaded with people who can believe in anything. In one of my hearings before General Medical Council in London I was judged by a doctor who believed that demons cause epilepsy. He is now in USA, I was told. At present God comes before Law as in Dieu et mon Droit crest on General Attorney’s letterhead. It is so archaic, disrespectful of truth and rather embarassing.

Eyelastin (user link) says:


Great post! I am just starting out in community management/marketing media and trying to learn how to do it well – resources like this article are incredibly helpful. As our company is based in the US, it?s all a bit new to us. The example above is something that I worry about as well, how to show your own genuine enthusiasm and share the fact that your product is useful in that case

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