Friday, 21 August 2009

Bloggers beware? Google forced to identify anonymous blogger

A US court has ordered Google to hand over the identity of a blogger who used her website to defame Liskula Cohen, a former Vogue cover girl. What does the ruling mean for the blogosphere?

From The Daily Telegraph
Bloggers beware? Google forced to identify anonymous blogger
By Claudine Beaumont, Technology Editor
20 August 2009
Comments 15
Bloggers beware? Google forced to identify anonymous blogger

Liskula Cohen, a Vogue covergirl, has won a court ruling asking Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who called the former model a 'skank'

Liskula Cohen, a 37-year-old model, was called a “psychotic, lying, whoring...skank” by the blogger. Cohen needed to know the true identity of the blogger in order to sue her for defamation.

The ruling has divided the blogosphere, with some applauding the decision, and others fearing it could be the thin end of the wedge, setting a dangerous precedent that will enable companies, organisations and individuals to demand the unmasking of any internet commentator they take a dislike to.

The reality, of course, is somewhere in between. There can be little doubt that, over the years, many blogs have used the cloak of anonymity afforded by the web to stir up hatred, resentment and sometimes even fear in the blogosphere, launching deeply personal and threatening attacks on people with little danger of their vitriol and abuse being traced back to their door.

“The rules for defamation on the web — for actual reality as well as virtual reality — are the same. The internet is not a free-for-all,” said Cohen’s lawyer after the case.

Technology blogger Kathy Sierra famously called on the web community to take a stand against “trolling” and abusive comments. She made the move after receiving dozens of death threats through her website. Horrified and outraged, she suspended her blog, and started a debate about whether a “bloggers’ code” needed to be drawn up in order to regulate the behaviour of posters and commentators online.
In circumstances such as that, when someone is in genuine fear for their life or safety because of something that has been said online, it’s hard to argue against naming and shaming those responsible. After all, you would not be able to get away with such attacks in real life; nor should you in cyberspace.
The difficulty comes, of course, with blogs that are merely controversial rather than out-and-out defamatory or threatening. The anonymity that allows cowards to mete out insults and hide behind an avatar is also used by those seeking to expose the reality of life inside a brutal regime, or simply to give an insight in to an organisation or service that impacts other people.
Take, for example, Random Acts of Reality, a blog that charts the work of a paramedic in the London Ambulance Service. Many of the opinions expressed within the blog could be considered controversial, but it would be hard to argue that the blogger’s identity should be revealed; simply exposing something to scrutiny by providing an insight in to its workings is rarely defamatory, or grounds for impinging on freedom of speech.
Likewise, the anonymity of bloggers is crucial, particularly in oppressive regimes. During the disputed Iranian elections, blogs and social media sites allowed people to provide an unsanitised account of what was really happening inside their country’s borders; revealing that blogger’s true identity at the behest of an embarrassed or angry government would deal a grave blow to healthy dissent.
In truth, this ruling simply serves to underscore that real world rules apply as much online as they do in the street, in the workplace, or in school.
The majority of bloggers, no matter how controversial the topic of their blog might be, have little to fear from this court case. It’s the trouble-makers and trolls who need to think hard before hitting publish on their next post.

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    1 comment:

    1. This is wonderful news for the many thousands of victims of anonymous bloggers and their Internet libel smear campaigns. Hopefully the New York precedence will be adopted by other jurisdictions as a common sense injection into a legal system that cannot keep up with technology. Actually, it isn't really a precedent, it has been done before but just not as highly publicized.

      Unless someone has experienced the anguish of an Internet libel Smear campaign personally, or through someone they love, it is very difficult to relate to how devastating it can be to one's career, business, relationships, and family. Not to mention emotional well-being.

      Respectfully submitted
      Michael Roberts, anonymous blogger bounty hunter.