Damn the Trolls. It's Time to Reveal the Identities of Anonymous Commenters who Slime Others

Personal Injury

By Larry Bodine, Editor in Chief

Online trolls who post defamatory comments can no longer hide behind their screen names, at least in Illinois. The state supreme court has ruled that internet service provider Comcast must reveal the identity of an online anonymous commenter who implied a county board candidate was a child molester and had attempted suicide.

The Freeport Journal Standard published an online article about Bill Hadley running as a candidate for the county board of Stephenson County, Illinois.  An online commenter using the name “Fuboy” posted these defamatory comments:

“Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed.  Check out the view he has of Empire [elementary school] from his front door”  and “Anybody know the tale of Hadley’s suicide attempt?…”

Defamation action filed

Hadley filed a defamation action against the anonymous troll, Comcast internet subscriber Doe a/k/a “Fuboy.”

For a stupid, wrongly-decided opposing viewpoint, see Court Refuses to Unmask Anonymous Critic of Attorney on AVVO

Hadley claimed the “Sandusky waiting to be exposed” comment, which referred to Penn State Football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of sexually abusing numerous boys, was defamatory per se because it “imputed the commission of a crime to Hadley.”

Hadley also issued a subpoena and filed a motion for entry of an order directing Comcast to turn over records and information concerning the IP address associated with “Fuboy.”

  • The circuit court found that the “Sandusky” comment imputed the commission of a crime to Hadley, that it was not capable of innocent construction, and was not considered an opinion making it per se defamatory. 
  • The Supreme Court found that Hadley had established a cause of action for defamation and affirmed the judgement of the appellate court, allowing Hadley to proceed with his defamation action and requiring Comcast to reveal the identity of Fuboy.

Scourge of trolls

Trolls are the scourge of the internet, and it's refreshing to see courts rip away their screen names and force them to account for their slanderous comments. The comments section of almost every website has been ruined by internet cowards, who slime other people just for the fun of it. A total lack of responsibility has erupted from people who make up a name and say crazy, damaging things, thinking they can get away with it. It is satisfying indeed to see that just as in real life, trolls are being held accountable for what they say.

"The comment section is often considered the wasteland of the internet, populated by trolls who post deliberately offensive comments to discourage civil discussion. Their mission is not to further debate, but derail it entirely with inflammatory messages, often laden with bigotry and designed to provoke outrage," writes Daniel Rosen on the Financial Post.

Freedom of speech is not unlimited. As we all know, you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Furthermore, no one has a right to defame, slander or libel someone else -- this is not protected speech. "There is no constitutional value in false statements of fact," the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled in a case where Yelp was forced to reveal the identities of seven anonymous commenters who trashed a local carpet cleaning company. It's high time that we see more court decisions like these.

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