Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anonymous blogger defaming NYC model identified: Internet anonymity not protected when committing tort

ABC “Good Morning America” on Wednesday Aug. 19 gave, in the first hour, an interview with model Liskula Cohen, who says she was defamed by defamatory blog posts (made on this blogging publishing service) in the summer of 2008. The blogger was an anonymous female, who wrote some pretty bad words and nasty and presumably false comments about the model on her blog, some of which were repeated verbatim in the interview. Some of the language in the blog resembled that of Imus in his notorious incident with the Rutgers team. The model says she may have lost work because of the posts.

The blog was removed for TOS reasons (the name of the blog was offensive and won’t be republished here), but the service refused to identify the blogger, citing protecting of the right of anonymity. Cohen went to court and got an order to identify the blogger. She then called the blogger and said she “forgave her.” Cohen’s attorney Steven Wagner also appeared in the segment, and did warn that bloggers will have to be prudent in what they publish (with respect to defamation or libel) just like the mainstream media, and anonymity will not protect them.

Diane Sawyer played devil’s advocate, asking, there is so much “trashtalk” on the Internet, why not ignore it?

The video appears today at the GMA link here. ABC did not provide any embed code.

Cohen said that those victimized by harassment online (including blog posts as well as on social networking sites or IM’s and texts) can seek assistance from lawyers for civil action and sometimes the police; sometimes, harassment spills over into criminal conduct (such as stalking or threats).

This incident should be compared to the Charlottesville incident reported here Monday Aug. 10.

The news story by Rich McHugh and Noel Hartman is “EXCLUSIVE: Model Liskula Cohen Wins Court Battle with Google to Learn Blogger's Identity”, link here

I don't engage in conduct like that depicted in the video here, and I do provide references for potentially harmful facts, usually from well-established media sources.

Update: August 25

George Rush, the New York Daily News "Gossip Columnist", reports that "outed" blogger Rosemary Port plans legal action herself, claiming invasion of privacy when her anonymity was compromised, link here. Jeffrey Toobin and Port's lawyer discussed the case on Campbell Brown's hour on CNN Monday Aug. 24.

Update: Aug. 26

Kathleen Parker has an important op-ed on p A15 of the Aug 26 Washington Post, "Shock Waves from the Google Bombs", in which she gives a pre-review of a Setp. 1 book by that name ("The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet"), authored by plaintiff Sue Scheff along with Reputation Defender CEO Michael Fertik (link here; I just ordered it myself). The op-ed link is here.

Parker mentions that Likshula Cohen has forgiven the blogger and dropped the suit (note the NY Daily News story above). But Scheff's business was damaged (according to the story) and she collected a big judgment for defamation (in 2006).

Parker acknowledges that blogging (especially with anonymity) has been a "boon to democracy" but is problematic for "decency". She warns that "a new level of accountability, largely missing from personal blogs, could be in the offing." Could that include mandatory insurance some day?

Update: Aug. 27

David Lieberman has a perspective in USA Today on the model case "'Skanks' case over Google's release of e-mail address tests limits of bloggers' anonymity", link here. Electronic Frontier Foundation now links to the article in its News area.

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