Y'all enjoy the wild, wild west while it's still here. Thanks to personal-attack-filled "tablogs" (as I call tabloid-quality blogs), more and more people are suing over unsubstantiated and libelous attack by anonymous flamers. For instance, a judge in New York just ruled that a blog has to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger, rejecting the "opinion" defense:
Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen is entitled to learn the identity of the person who slammed her on the blog Skanks In NYC, a judge in New York ruled Monday. Judge Joan Madden agreed with Cohen that the blog, which referred to Cohen as a "skank," potentially defamed her. "The thrust of the blog is that petitioner is a sexually promiscuous woman," Madden wrote, rejecting the blogger's argument that the comments were mere opinion and hyperbole.
The entire blog consisted of five entries, all made Aug. 21 2008, and was devoted to trashing Cohen. "I would have to say that the first place award for 'Skankiest in NYC' would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen," stated one post, which goes on to call her a "psychotic, lying, whoring ... skank."
And if this case can go this route, imagine what is bound to happen to all the anonymous bloggers who make outright unfactual statements about other people that don't even bother to masquerade as opinion. ("They did ______," rather than "I think they're a jerk." Second one is "opinion"; first one isn't, even if you put "It is my opinion that they did _______" in front of it.)
The answer, obviously, is self-regulation, and it's not hard to do. Web sites and blogs should encourage real names on comments and posts (and blog owners should always post under their own names, since they're already legally responsible for their own content anyway). At least, all commenters should be required to have a distinct user name, and posts containing clearly libelous or unsubstantiated accusations should not be allowed. (They aren't in print; Web site publishers are naive to think that they will be continued to be allowed online.) Meantime, the rest of us can choose to only participate in blogs that know how to take personal responsibility and self-regulate
The online trend is solidly toward requiring registration and rejecting personal attacks and "trolls" (as we've done for years to preserve the integrity of the site). Of course, the worst blogs are exactly the ones that won't self-regulate, and will force the whole situation to be worse for all of us. And some of them will likely become the unfortunate test cases that set the precedent, even as they troll and bemoan poor-little-them all the way to the courthouse.
Sigh. It doesn't have to be this way, but a minority of Internet users will force it on all of us. Too bad.