Anonymous Internet posters should show their faces

-A A +A
By The Staff

I’ve got a real problem with anonymity. There are occasions when someone should remain anonymous, but Internet message boards isn’t one of them.

I know, I know. The News-Journal allows anonymous comments on its Web site. For the record, I don’t like that either.

Something about going online under the cover of darkness brings out the worst in people. Or perhaps anonymity allows people to reveal their true nature.

According to the Courier-Journal, last week a Circuit Court judge ruled that the Richmond Register doesn’t yet have to turn over the name and contact information of someone accused of making false comments on the newspaper’s Web site, comments that have resulted in a defamation lawsuit.

It all began a couple of years ago when college student Kymberly Clem was kicked out of a mall because someone deemed the dress that she was wearing too short. Clem had bought the dress at the same mall the day before.

The Richmond Register ran a story about the incident, and anonymous poster using the name “I2bme” logged the allegedly defamatory post under the story online. I’m not going to repeat it here. Sorry.

Clem’s attorney filed suit against I2bme and subpoenaed the newspaper to provide the identity of the poster.

In its defense, the Register claimed First Amendment rights of the poster and the paper to speak freely in a public forum.

I believe in free speech, but I don’t believe people have the right to spread defamatory and untrue comments about fellow human beings.

The paper also claimed I2bme was protected under the Kentucky Reporter’s Shield Law because the post was reported in a story about the lawsuit. The Shield Law protects reporters from disclosing anonymous sources.

Judge Jean Chenault Logue ruled that the poster was not protected under the Shield Law, because the comment was made in the online forum, not during an interview.

Logue also adopted a multi-part process that could allow for I2bme to be identified. Other states, Logue said, have adopted similar methods.

The defendant must make a reasonable effort to locate the poster, giving them a chance to respond to the lawsuit. They must also submit specific evidence of defamation. Finally, they must prove that the identity is necessary for the lawsuit to proceed.

Such a ruling could have a far-reaching impact. It could force those who post on message boards to, at the very least, stick only to verifiable facts. Or, it could lead some of the more egregious posters to a day in court.

Either outcome would bring a smile to my face.

James Roberts writes for the Central Kentucky News-Journal in Campbellsville.