Indiana Court Says Anonymous Commenters Deserve High Standard Before Being Exposed, But Aren't Necessarily Protected By Shield Laws

from the seems-reasonable dept

A few months ago, we wrote about a case in Indiana involving an attempt to unmask an anonymous commenter on a newspaper website who effectively accused someone of embezzlement. There were a few legal questions involved in the case, and the one we had focused on involved the newspaper itself trying to protect that commenter under Indiana Journalism shield laws. At the time, we'd argued that the shield law should probably be limited to cases where the individuals actually were acting as a source... and that basic First Amendment case law could handle the anonymity question outside of the shield law.

It looks like the court effectively agreed with just about everything we said. The court rejected the shield law argument, but not in a broad way saying that commenters aren't protected under the shield, but that this comment wasn't really a "source" in any meaningful way, and the newspaper didn't use the comment as the basis for any additional reporting. However, the court pretty clearly suggests that in other cases, commenters could be considered sources and could be protected by shield laws.

However, perhaps more importantly, the court set a relatively high bar for unveiling the anonymous commenter -- adopting the Dendrite rules that give the anonymous person a chance to respond and which require the plaintiff to present a significant amount of evidence that the comments violate the law before any unmasking is ordered. While the Dendrite rule still is not standard, it is spreading, and it's nice to see Indiana adopt it as well.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2012 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re:

    No, I am saying it's bad that a higher standard appears to be applied to anonymous comments than to signed ones. The standard for taking someone to court should not be different based on their method of speech, or if they decide to announce their name at the end of it or not.

    If the lawsuit is filed, there should be no reason for the anonymous to be retained. If the lawsuit has no merit, the anonymous can counter sue for harassment and likely win easily.

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