19 August 2009
How Anonymous Are You Really When You Blog?
Here is some food for thought for those of you out there, me included, who blog and say things that may or may not be considered defamatory.
A model, Liskula Cohen, has successfully sued Google for the name of an anonymous blogger who she alleges defamed her on a blog hosted by Google. The blog was called Skanks in NYC. The essence of the defamation case is that the anonymous blogger called Cohen a "skank" and an "old hag".
The anonymous blogger identified Cohen as the "skankiest in NYC". This was then followed with, "How old is this skank? 40 something? She's a psychotic, lying, whoring, still going to clubs at her age, skank." I am guessing that this does not leave much to one's imagination. Is it defamatory? On face value, probably.
However, there are defenses to defamation that if the decision survives appeal, assuming there is one, then the anonymous blogger would likely be arguing an extension of what the blogger's lawyer has put forward so far, namely: this was mere opinion and "trash talk" rather than any intent to defame. The extension here would be to argue that, in essence, what has been said is in fact true.
Judge Joan Madden has ruled in favour of Cohen and has ordered that Google must provide the name of the anonymous blogger. It is expected that the name of the anonymous blogger is to be revealed in court as a means of allowing Cohen to proceed with her defamation action against the currently anonymous blogger. According to Judge Madden the assertions made were that Cohen was sexually promiscuous and the accompanying photos on the blog bore this intent out sufficiently well.
Cohen's modelling career was seemingly cut short when she was glassed in 2007. The resulting injuries required 46 stitches to close the wounds. Cohen was glassed when she objected to some drunk bloke stealing a bottle of vodka off her table. The bloke decided his best course of action in response to this objection was to glass Cohen in the face. The bloke was sent to jail, and deservedly so.
The case is interesting because of the potential implications. These implications are that anyone who thinks they are blogging anonymously may not be so anonymous after all. There are undoubtedly many techno savvy individuals out there with the knowledge and means of ratcheting up their anonymity to make discovery of their true identities even more difficult or impossible.
I am not one of them. I have enough trouble just using the features of blogger to be worried about whether I am anonymous or not. That said, I am using my real name to blog. So, if I have defamed you then you know where I reside in cyberspace.
There is a belief that this decision will open the floodgates to litigation and defamation claims based on comments written online that people do not agree with. This would seemingly be the case.
It is worth noting that the blog in question was shut down in March of this year. The blog contained only five entries and all of them related to Cohen. My guess is that the anonymous blogger is likely someone she knows or someone she has had some acquaintance with. Alternatively, it is, or was, a cyber-stalker which is a scary thought.
Something for all you anonymous bloggers out there to consider is this statement from Google:
"We sympathise with anyone who may be the victim of cyber bullying. We also take great care to respect privacy concerns and will only provide information about a user in response to a subpoena or other court order." So, make sure you re-read the privacy statement from Google again if you thought what you clicked guaranteed your absolute privacy.
Food for thought.