Internet Defamation Law and Online "Anonymity"
Let’s face it, the Internet today can be used for aggressive, immoral, and oftentimes obscene discussions. In short, anything goes.
Libel and slander on the Internet are rampant. Most often, online defamation occurs in the context of disgruntled employees, rumors started by business competitors, or on consumer “gripe” sites. There is a general misapprehension that online blogging and forum posts are “anonymous” if made under an assumed name. However, websites track information such as IP addresses and will oftentimes, whether voluntarily or involuntarily via a subpoena, provide an experienced Internet defamation attorney with information concerning an “anonymous” third-party post.
The Internet, however, differs somewhat from traditional mainstream media when it comes to defamation issues and related lawsuits. For example, the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to Internet service providers (“ISPs”) and websites that permit user-generated comments. Specifically, if the owner/operator of a computer bulletin board, blog, or website does not write, edit, solicit, or prompt the unlawful comments, it will most likely not be held liable as a “publisher” for the comments of third-parties. This is not to say, however, that if they do nothing that they may not be found liable for negligence or copyright infringement.
The individual, however, posting the unlawful comment(s) is not provided such a safe harbor. And try as they might, anonymity is far from certain when individuals post online. Tracking the source of an online comment is not only possible, its relatively simple.