Newspaper Reveals Source of Anonymous Online Comments

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently decided to release the identity of an anonymous person who was posting online comments about a pending capital murder trial.  The newspaper revealed the person’s identity after linking comments to an e-mail address affiliated with a local court where the trial was pending.  The trial judge told the newspaper her daughter was responsible for posting the comments.

Anonymous online posts are raising a host of new legal issues.  In the litigation context, courts have struggled to adopt a uniform test balancing the First Amendment right to remain anonymous with plaintiffs’ desires to obtain identifying information through subpoenas.  The Shidler Journal (now the Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts) recently analyzed an Arizona court of appeals decision offering a new hybrid approach to balancing the rights of anonymous posters with litigants challenging online activities.

The News Room Blog has questioned the Dealer’s decision to out its anonymous reader: “Down the road, however, when the Plain Dealer seeks to quash a subpoena from a local politician seeking the identity of someone who he or she alleges posted defamatory material anonymously, Exhibit A to the plaintiff’s brief will almost certainly be this story.”

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