All Articles Tagged "online commentary"
We’re not talking about the beastly creature that tormented the three Billy Goats Gruff in the classic Norwegian fairytale, but rather the internet slang term used for the anonymous persons that posts inflammatory and just flat out mean-spirited comments on online discussion forums, chat rooms or in the comment section of your blog.
As a writer, particularly one who publishes their work online, you will learn to develop a thicker skin over time to deal with attacks from those whose sole purpose is to provoke an emotional-based response. As infuriating it is and can be at times, consider the trolls as a not-so-pleasant consequence that comes with the privilege of participating in the last bastion of free speech also known as the Internet.
But not everyone is feeling the free speech terrain. Jermaine Hall, Editor-in-Chief of a Vibe magazine, and his wife will be in court today to seek a court order to disclose the identity of an anonymous online poster, who calls him/herself BETonBlack. According to published reports, in November and December of 2010, BETonBlack called Hall an “Uncle Tom” for marrying a white woman and then went on a tirade to insult his wife’s appearance. The comments were made on LipstickAlley.com, a very well known gossip online message board where people go to well, gossip.
Last month, a New York judge ordered Lipstick Alley to disclose the anonymous poster’s name. In response, Lipstick Alley’s message board operators reached out to Public Citizen, an Internet free speech organization with a long history of defending the right to speak anonymously on the Internet. They are now providing legal assistance to Lipstick Alley and the anonymous poster.
According to the attorney working on behalf of Public Citizen and the anonymous poster, this case represents the unending debate over people’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously on the Internet. Moreover, the attorney claimed that the “Halls have not provided the required proof that would prompt a court to order the critic’s identity to be disclosed.”
Certainly, the proliferation of incivility online has warranted some sort of corrective action, but at what point does cracking down on anonymous content threaten freedom of expression? Moreover, is there such a thing as having anonymous speech protected by the First Amendment?
Online usage has induced a plethora of lawsuits demanding that the identities of anonymous posters be revealed; however, the outcomes of the request differ depending on the judge. Recently, a Texas circuit court judge ordered an online news aggregation site to turn over any potentially identifying information it has on its 178-member posters, some of whom posted alleged defamatory comments about two individuals involved in a sexual assault case. In Cleveland, a judge there sided with a website dedicated to criticizing a Lorain County home builder; the site often featured anonymous posts that attacked the quality of the homebuilder’s work.
These sorts of lawsuits could be troubling for some people because it could result in a much harder time using the Internet if real names and/or addresses are revealed. Corporate whistleblowers, human rights workers and organizers, and victims of domestic violence all benefit from the anonymity of the Internet.
As for Hall, it appears that he might be making mountains out of a molehill because prior to lawsuit, most users probably never heard of BETonBlack or his or her comments. Now it’s a guarantee that folks will be actively seeking them out. Those who learn of this story will have a comment on not only the merits of this case, but whether or not BETonBlack in right. In essence, Hall broke rule number one of the Internet: never feed the trolls.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.