Recently an NYC Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden issued a ruling that has sent shock waves through the blogosphere and that is considered precedent setting in the field of libel and slander law.
ומעשה שהי-ה כך הי-ה An anonymous blogger created a blog called skanks of NYC whose sole purpose (only post???) was to smear the reputation of a fashion model named Luskila Cohen. Ms. Cohen brought legal action against Blogger.com’s parent company Google to force them to disclose the anonymous bloggers identity so that she could then sue him or, as it turned out, her for defamation of character. The judge ruled in Ms. Cohen’s favor and now the anonymous blogger has been “outed” and slammed with a defamation suit by Ms. Cohen. In turn the formerly anonymous blogger's lawyer said he plans to pursue all her legal options against Google -- and could take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court.
I expect that Judge Madden's will be overturned at some point by an appellate court and /or that many of the underlying issues of privacy, free speech and defamation will remain unresolved until they are finally adjudicated by the Supremes. In the meantime, despite being in middle of the dog days of summer, the current ruling is a veritable blogospheric ice-storm sending us this free-spech chilling message : anonymous blogging will NOT protect the “anonymous blogger” from prosecution if they make malicious, defamatory or libelous claims on their blogs. As Ms. Cohen's attorney Steven Wagner, said he hopes the decision sends a message to bloggers, Twitterers, and whoever else would use the anonymity of the Internet for cowardly defamations. "The rules for defamation on the Web -- for actual reality as well as virtual reality -- are the same," Wagner said. "The Internet is not a free-for-all."
In this case the one hurling the defamatory epithets was anonymous while the victim was named. But I’m wondering if the same would apply in a case where the victim was ALSO anonymous. If someone shows up to a costume ball and I publish an article or blog post saying false and malicious things about their costume am I guilty of libel? Can a hollow mask sue a human being, or yet another hollow mask, for defamation of character? If I were to describe DovBear as a Qofer or NotBrisk as a fanatic could they, while keeping their own true identities secret, sue me for defamation while forcing me to reveal my own? Was Rabbi Fink thinking about any of this when he posted about "onymous" vs. anonymous blogging?
In a society where all morality is relative what even constitutes defamation anymore? After all we have had adulterers as State Governors and U.S. presidents, Drug addicts and alcoholics as top entertainers and athletes and killers (armed service veterans and hunters/trappers) in the U.S. Congress. In fact the most egregious act that Ms. Cohen was accused of is something that famed collegiate basketball coach Rick Pitino recently owned up to while keeping his high-profile job and marriage intact!
On the J-blogospghere is calling someone a Qofer, kanoi or a kal defaming them…or paying them a compliment for, respectively, their dispassionate rationality, passionate dedication or easy-going nature ?
Obviously, I who first turned to blogging in order to ventilate a severely suppressed spleen, to thaw out frozen free speech, have more than a passing academic interest in all of these questions.
Here are some quality posts that deal with the legal minutae click and absurdity of it all click.
Qedusha-Havdala...Have you had YOURS today???