In service of a Topix defamation lawsuit, a judge ordered an ISP to hand over personally identifiable information to a plaintiff. Do judges often force websites to hand over user data? Can you file an Internet libel lawsuit if you only know the screen name of your defamer? We’ll answer these questions – and a few others — below.
Anonymous Topix Defamation Case Study: School Critics v. John Doe
Internet Critics Voice Their Opinions Online
Some people avoid confrontation; other people welcome it, and still other folks prefer to air all of their opinions online. Sam Ferry, Rich Simpson and Michelle Tyler arguably fall into the last group – prolific Internet critics. One of their long-time targets was the Fox School District in Jefferson County, MO.
Critics Asked To Stop, But Didn’t
Last year, to no avail, school officials had formally asked the trio to tamp down their Internet missives. That said, nothing legally formal ever came of the tension between the school district and its critics – until January 15th.
Disparaging Comments Popped Up On Topix.com About Critics
In the middle of January, 2013, curious posts started appearing on popular online community portal – Topix.com. Left by various users with screen names like “seriously” and “must be drugs,” the disparaging content focused on nepotism in the district. They also mentioned the locally infamous trio of critics — Sam Ferry, Rich Simpson and Michelle Tyler. The posts lasted through May 15, 2013.
Many of the Topix comments were normal – though petty – quips we’ve all come to expect on forums. However, several of the posts — including accusations of bestiality, child porn and STDs — crossed the line. So, the trio of critics rightly decided to file an anonymous Topix defamation lawsuit.
Critics Believe That One Person Is Behind The Anonymous Posts
The plaintiffs believe one person – donning 13 different screen names – is behind the online taunting. And a judge ruled that the ISP must hand over certain information that will allow the plaintiffs to uncover said person in order to move forward with their Topix defamation case.
Executive Explains Topix.com Defamation Position
When asked about the suit, Chris Tolles, CEO and co-founder of Topix, explained that while his company is all for free speech, it is “not a free-for-all.” Interestingly, Tolles also revealed that:
- Topix.com honors nearly all court orders to hand over information, and
- Staffers delete about 1,000 of the 10,000 comments daily.
What Will The Plaintiffs Have To Prove, In This Anonymous Topix Defamation Case, To Win?
Unearthing the name of an anonymous defamer is step one in an Internet libel lawsuit. The next step is pleading one’s case (if it makes it to trial or before a judge). So, what do you have to prove to win a defamation lawsuit?
Libel and slander laws vary from state to state, but all are built around four defamation elements: truth, publication, harm and negligence.
- Truth: In order for a statement to be defamatory, it must be a false statement of fact. Opinions, under U.S. law, are not considered slanderous or libelous.
- Publication: In order for a statement to be defamatory, it must be published to more than one person.
- Harm: A statement is not defamatory if it doesn’t cause either monetary or reputation-related harm.
- Negligence: The plaintiff in a U.S. defamation lawsuit is responsible for proving that the defendant acted with negligence when publishing or speaking a false statement of fact. In other words, if the defendant can prove that he or she had every reason to believe the information was accurate, in many cases a judge will rule in his or her favor.
Opinion Is Not Defamation
Under United States law, opinion is not defamation. If someone calls you a “jerk,” it’s not defamatory. If someone writes on Topix.com that you’re “not a good person,” and you file a claim over it, there’s a good chance a judge will deem the post opinion and dismiss the Topix defamation lawsuit.
Anonymous Topix Defamation: Can You Uncover The Real Name Behind An Internet Handle
More often than not, people don’t use their real names online. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sue an anonymous defamer. Doing so simply requires an additional step. In most jurisdictions, if pleaded properly, judges will issue court orders compelling Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to hand over identifying information about anonymous posters, thereby allowing online libel plaintiffs to unearth the alleged defamers government name in order to move forward with the claim.
Contact A Lawyer With Anonymous Topix Defamation Experience
Are you dealing with an anonymous Topix defamation situation? Our online libel legal practice has handled countless cases where the plaintiff must first file a John Doe suit. In a way, you could say we know the niche better than most. You don’t have to let the disparaging comment stand. Get in touch today to learn more about your legal options.