Should Tumblr Be Forced To Reveal 500 People Who Reblogged A Sex Tape?
from the bad-cases-make-bad-law dept
What were we just saying about how it’s important to defend Section 230 of the CDA even when it’s hard? Well, here’s a hard case in New York City where the situation is very unfortunate. It appears that a woman discovered that an old sex tape of hers had surfaced online from 10 years earlier when she was 17. Someone had posted it to Tumblr, where over 1,000 people apparently viewed it — and somewhere around 500 “reblogged” it or commented on it in some manner. This is, undoubtedly, traumatic for the woman. She appears to believe that “an angry ex” posted it to Tumblr originally, which would make this a classic “revenge porn” situation.
But… rather than go after that ex, her lawyer is going after everyone who reblogged it on Tumblr and somehow got a judge to agree to force Tumblr to cough up identifying information on all of them. So let’s be clear: this is clearly a horrifying story and an awful thing for the woman to live through. And, on top of that, the people who not only viewed, but further shared the video are awful human beings who should feel bad about their choices in life.
But… there are all sorts of legal questions here that should raise concerns. First up: Section 230. That should have kept Tumblr from being liable if it fails to hand over this info, as it’s not supposed to be held liable for the actions of its users. And that’s even — as noted by Scott Greenfield — after Tumblr failed to show up in court and the judge gave the plaintiff a default ruling. Second issue: protecting anonymity online. As we’ve detailed many times before, and as the Supreme Court has stated, the right to speak anonymously is also protected by the First Amendment. There are standards for revealing identifying information on anonymous speech, but it requires those in court clear a pretty high bar in proving why it’s necessary to strip that right of anonymity. It does not appear that any such high bar was met in this case. Third issue: on Tumblr, “reblogging” something is basically a click of a button and is often the functional equivalent of a “retweet” for those more familiar with Twitter. That is, it does not signal endorsement — but really just a way of marking something that you saw.
So, again, this is one of those cases where it certainly feels very difficult to defend the other side here. I have nothing good to say about the people who watched or reblogged the video. But getting Tumblr to reveal their identities so that she can proceed to sue them is a bad idea fraught with all sorts of problems.