Texas Judge Forces Topix To Reveal Anonymous Commenters
Share: by Jordan Yerman | February 11, 2009 at 03:29 pm
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Anonymous commenters, take note: you're only as anonymous as the government wishes. Basically, a couple is suing the anon commenters who posted on a story linking them to an alleged sexual assault. Having been found not guilty, the couple turned on the commenters, suing them for defamation.
Topix, the online news aggregation and local community site, has apparently been told by a judge to cough up identifying information on 178 formerly anonymous commenters on the site. The details are still a little unclear from the article linked here -- but it looks like the commenters were discussing a sexual harassment case that was happening in Texas. In that case, the defendants were found not guilty, but apparently the online comments on Topix got somewhat nasty. So the couple, fresh off being acquitted of sexual assault charges, sued 178 different anonymous commenters -- and the judge seemed to have no problem ordering Topix to turn over any identifying information it had on those commenters.
Being a jerk isn't illegal (online or in the real world), but there is a very crossable line there. Also, these commenters didn't seem to think that the couple would find out about their postings- had they never heard of Google?
On one hand, I'm nervous about supposedly anonymous material suddenly getting "outed", since that sort of thing is a slippery slope. On the other hand, use common sense: don't say anything to strangers online that you wouldn't say to their face, and most of these problems wouldn't even arise in the first place.