Anonymous trolls on the Internet are allowed to remain anonymous, a judge in a California appeals court ruled yesterday. Not only that, but they’re allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak their minds, no matter how scathing their comments may be. The court opinion reversed a previous decision that would have allowed Lisa Krinsky, COO of a Florida-based drug service company, to subpoena 10 anonymous Yahoo message board posters’ real names.
In 2005, ten anonymous trolls had posted very nasty comments about Krinsky, her company, and others at her company, on Yahoo’s message boards. The Judge described these comments as “scathing verbal attacks.” I won’t repeat them here.
Krinsky left SFBC in December of 2005 and filed the lawsuit in January of 2006, which Doe 6 attempted to quash. In April of 2006, a superior court judge said that Doe 6 was “trying to drive down the price of [plaintiff's] company to manipulate the stock
price, sell it short and so forth,” …The court also suggested that “[a]ccusing a woman of unchastity [...] calling somebody a crook . . . saying that they have a fake medical degree, accusing someone of a criminal act, accusing someone–impinging [sic] their integrity to practice in their chosen profession historically have been libel per se.” The court then denied Doe 6’s motion to quash.
The appeals court acknowledged that the Wild West of the Internet is still bound by rules about libel, and that especially in the corporate and financial arena, people’s reputations and entire companies can suffer damages as rumors spread over the ‘Net. Still, the judge ruled that what Doe 6 had posted were not assertions of “actual fact” and therefore not actionable under Florida’s defamation law, despite being “unquestionably offensive and demeaning.” Therefore, Doe 6’s statements are still protected under the First Amendment, and he is entitled to all costs involved in his appeal.