Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
anonymity, maryland

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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    AJ, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 4:49am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    MM, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 5:22am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Palmyra, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 5:23am


    And your post is not anonymous? There must be millions of AJs in the world. If that is even your initials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 6:01am

    Re: Wrong thinking

    AJ: Anonymous Jerk

    Reciprocal hypocrisy for the win!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    anon, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 6:57am


    Epic fail!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    some old guy, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 7:02am

    Re: Wrong thinking

    The irony lies in the fact that you don't believe your statement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 7:23am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Michael O'Connor, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 7:55am

    "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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Clovenlife, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 8:42am

    Here's what I don't get about legally fighting defamatory statements? Why don't we still use the "I'm rubber you're glue" defense.. its done me well so far.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    GeneralEmergency (profile), Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 9:10am

    Nice list of guidelines ...BUT...

    ...there is one glaring omission.

    There is no acknowledgment that comment and discussion facilities on the internet need to be viewed more as casual, interpersonal "town pub" VERBAL communications and not as published, declaratory works of great importance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 12:28pm

    Re: Wrong thinking

    Pot, meet Kettle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Vic, Mar 3rd, 2009 @ 7:54am

    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.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 3rd, 2009 @ 5:44pm

    Re: Re: Wrong thinking

    Dear Vic,

    To get started verifying your identity, please post your full name, SSN, mother's maiden name and a copy of your driver's license plus one other govt. issued photo ID.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Vic, Mar 6th, 2009 @ 10:39am

    Re: Wrong thinking

    And why should I be interested in VERIFYING my identity to the world, let alone on a site like this?

    Why don't you post your SSN or SIN, mother's maiden name, copy of your drivers license (and extract), and at least one other govt issued photo idea?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Dr Helen Bright, Jun 18th, 2009 @ 3:27pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Eyelastin, Jul 27th, 2010 @ 12:45am


    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    lrobbo (profile), May 23rd, 2012 @ 10:17am

    Re: Wrong thinking

    Er, it would appear that you have opted to remain anonymous, therefore nullifying your statement. Good job I don't take online comments seriously, think my brain would melt if i did . . .

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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