Is It Time for Anonymous Bloggers to Cowboy Up?

I’ve been trying hard not to comment about the ridiculous Skankgate business.  But today my resolve was broken by the final straw.

cowboyupHere’s the background as I understand it.  Some anonymous blogger calls some model a skank (among many other things), the alleged skank considers suing said anonymous blogger and subpoenas Google (who hosted said blogger’s blog for free) for said blogger’s particulars.  Google notifies said anonymous blogger of the subpoena to allow said anonymous blogger to challenge the subpoena, which said anonymous blogger does and fails.  Under court order, Google provides said anonymous blogger’s name to the alleged skank.

Then, rather than defend the alleged skank’s claim, either under some truth as a defense theory, by playing the much misunderstood First Amendment card or otherwise, the no-longer anonymous blogger decides to sue Google for $15 million.

Are you kidding me?

Read carefully.  It’s not the person who was called a skank who’s suing Google.  It’s the person who said it, somehow claiming that Google should have ignored the subpoena in the name of preserving that person’s ability to say seemingly anything behind a self-granted cloak of anonymity.  It’s like the schoolyard bully suing a teacher for pulling him off a weakling.  In other words, it’s backwards.  And illogical.

Some seem to be confusing anonymity with immunity.  Some might say this suit is some combination of offense as a good defense, a bad aim and a money grab.

My issue is not the truth or untruth of what was said.  Who cares- there are laws to deal with that.  My issue is with someone who wants to make all sorts of allegations about someone else, but is unwilling to stand up and say “yeah, I said it.”  And it’s not like this situation involved a single skank reference amid scads of other content and opinion.  According to a  report at Wired, the no-longer anonymous blogger:

published only five posts, all devoted to attacking [the alleged skank], a 37-year-old who has reportedly modeled for Australian Vogue, Georgio Armani and Versace. In the posts, [the alleged skank] was called a “psychotic, lying, whoring . . . skank” and an “old hag,” and was depicted as a desperate “fortysomething” who was past her prime.

As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t want to take credit for it, then don’t cross any legal lines when you crap all over someone.  I have the same respect for anonymous bloggers who attack people as I do for the those who write on bathroom walls.  That sort of thing makes Twitter seem like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Robert X. Cringely notes in a PCWorld article that “if anonymous speech on the Internet is no longer anonymous, some people will simply stop speaking.” To which I and the rest of the sane world say “so freaking what?”  The mathematical value of some anonymous, tossed-up Blogger blog or some scathing anonymous blog comment is very close to zero.

And, again, no one is saying you can’t be anonymous- the hair trigger First Amendment police tend to get confused about this.  Even the generally reliable Techdirt seems to be misinterpreting the right of free speech as an absolute right to be anonymous, which it is not (though Techdirt did come down on the side of logic with respect to the suit against Google).  If you want to write anonymously, no one can or should stop you, and the very legitimate protection of anonymous speech requires scrutiny before removing the cloak of anonymity.  But if you defame someone, you can’t simply hide behind your self-granted anonymity.  To argue otherwise is to turn the law- and common sense- on its head.

Privacy expert  Dan Solove says:

The Internet shouldn’t mean that people have unbridled freedom to do things they wouldn’t do before without repercussions. We have an unprecedented power to broadcast something to the entire world. Never before in history have you had the power to do this without the aid of the mainstream media.

An interesting footnote.  Upon learning of the no-longer anonymous blogger’s identity, the alleged skank says, “I just dialed her up. I said no more lawyers, it’s OK. I forgive you.”

I say if you want to talk trash about people, cowboy up and say it to their face.