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Anonymous Bloggers- What Are Your Rights?

August 25, 2009

For the last several days, I’ve been following new developments in the case of a formerly anonymous blogger, Rosemary Port who wrote a blog called “Skanks of NYC” in which she made personal written attacks on a model she knew.  Recently, the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the model who was trying to force Google to disclose the email address of the anonymous blogger.  Rosemary plans to sue, however, her identity has already been exposed.

Free speech advocates are up in arms for good reason.  Clearly this will set the precedent of how future cases will be ruled on reagarding information people post online with the intent that it is anonymous.  If companies like Google can legally be forced to disclose and identify bloggers, what is next?  The other side of the argument is that there are limits to what the First Amendment covers and that lying and defaming someone intentionally should not be protected.

I follow many bloggers who are not anonymous and some that are.  What are your thoughts?  Weigh in and tell me, should bloggers be allowed to remain anonymous?  If you are an anonymous blogger, how will this case affect what you write and whether or not you choose to remain anonymous?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2009 5:59 am

    I think for many bloggers anonymity provides some safety and security from current or potential future employers, or even friends and family. I am sure many anonymous bloggers love the freedom of being able to write pretty much whatever they want, with little to no consequences. But this anonymity can’t be used as protection in the case of likely illegal activity. Slander and libel are certainly not easy to prove, but think about it this way, if it was your name and reputation that was under attack by a popular but anonymous blogger, I think you would use every means available to put a stop to the problem. Great question, Trish!

  2. August 25, 2009 6:06 am

    Let’s put the same type of blogging as “Skanks of NYC” in a different context. If it were a magazine or a newspaper, would that person be provided an open platform to harrass and impugn someone else w/o fear of being discovered?

    Probably not.

    My personal feeling is you should blog out in the open. I do realize not everyone can do that, but it does enforce a certain transparency.

  3. August 25, 2009 6:36 am

    Just because blogging lets one write anonymously if they so choose does not mean one should think it absolves them of being responsible for their words and actions. Freedom means you can say it, write it, etc. It doesn’t mean you are free from the responsibility. Using anonymity to be nasty is childish. I don’t think google promises bloggers anything about privacy in a legal sense http://www.blogger.com/terms.g

    I think a more subtle question is what about those bloggers who aren’t hiding to be nasty but to possibly to avoid *any* conflict between personal and professional.

    In another secret blogger identity case Pitt Girl lost her day job when she had to reveal her identity in relation to her anonymous blog. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_639268.html But this isn’t such a landmark news event for HR because you know what? She is taking responsibility for the fact that some of the things she wrote MAY (not do or will) may have conflicted with the nature of being an employee of a non-profit operating within the city of Pittsburgh (her blog included opinions on city officials and such). You won’t see Pitt Girl suing her employer or the person who outted her (or was going to out her). She is taking responsibility and moving on.

    So for me as an HR professional I think instead about Pitt Girl over skank-nasty-blogger…I’m wondering, even if there were some political fall out, in such a small progressive place like Pittsburgh, couldn’t I maybe use Pitt Girl’s personality to boost my non-profits name and work instead of fire her in fear? Where I am, I hang onto any responsible employee I can.

    And if I *were* an anonymous blogger I’d currently be rethinking things in terms of “can I afford to lose my job if they are displeased with my blogging should they find out” (really, the chances of that are greater than being sued by a model don’t you think?). And if I were an anonymous type HR blogger and employed I’d be hoping I had the blessing of my employer to put my name on my blogging as well as my work. I hope all of my favorite HR bloggers do. I lost PittGirl, I don’t think I could handle EvilHRLady turning into Jane Smith.

  4. August 25, 2009 9:01 am

    Wow, great question Trish, you’ve got my wheels turning . . . legal rights, precedents aside, if you aren’t willing to put your name on it (whether you choose to or not) don’t write it.

  5. August 25, 2009 9:58 am

    On the one hand, as a former anonymous blogger I would have hated to have been forced to identify myself. On the other hand, I would have never done anything like this chick did. Free speech is not meant to protect lies and if that’s what this blogger was doing then she should be held responsible. You shouldn’t use anonymity as an excuse to do anything you want.

  6. August 25, 2009 10:01 am

    I get why some people do the anonymous blogging thing, I did it myself for a while. The way this woman has chosen to be anonymous is cowardly. I’m all about free speech and freedom of the press but if you are going to publicly bash someone, have the nerve to at least own your words. Most anonymous bloggers I know do it because of business reasons or they just arent ready to come out of the blogging closet. I think Lisa is right, if you dont want your name attached to it at some point in your life dont write it.

  7. Shennee Rutt permalink
    August 25, 2009 10:12 am

    This is a very interesting question. I am going to be starting a blog. I have not decided on a title yet. I can understand why someone may want to remain Anonymous, However, I agree with Lisa and April, If you do not want your name atteached to something,do not write it.

  8. August 25, 2009 10:43 am

    There are no absolute rights. Each comes with a responsibility. It seems that one way to look at this is through the lens of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s opinion from Schenck vs United States.

    “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

  9. August 25, 2009 12:54 pm

    I believe in transparency so I opt to be out in the open. However, when I started I was anonymous because my employer at the time would have had a heart attack. That said – I also was careful to not break laws, etc. that would get me outed.

    As others have said, free speech comes with responsibilities. And that applies with blogging as well.

    The other issue is that the person was using a service and I’ve not read their terms of use but it probably has some clause that allows them to reveal identities in cases like this. If the person truly wants to remain anonymous they could have hosted them selves and kept google out of it.

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