National Post on Net Libel Suits

The National Post weighs in on the rise of online libel suits, though it oddly describes online anonymity as "sock puppetry."


  1. MarkFrancis says:

    I suppose the argument would be that there\’s a difference between a sock puppet and simply being anonymous. Sock puppets are about using alternate identities to promote points of view which the author doesn’t necessarily believe in, whereas anonymity is about hiding identity. There’s an obvious overlap, but the purpose of the anonymity is the difference.

    What the piece missed is the obvious problem in jurisdictions such as ours (\’Oh Canada…\’) where libel laws can easily be abused to reveal the identity of people. They also can be used to eradicate content from the face of the planet _without_ a court order. The anonymous blog \’The Green Compost Heap\’ is mentioned in the article, and goes on to say that the plaintiff wants the content removed. The article missed that the entire blog has already been taken down. My last survey of legal docs in those cases has no court order or finding issued. The blog was removed, it seems, based upon the mere allegation of libel on one post and a few comments.

    It litigators and plaintiffs think that they are leading us into a world where anonymity will not be a roadblock in litigation, think again. We are dealing with a technology that spans the world. When people find that simple anonymity is not enough, they will move to more complex and harder to trace technologies — a negative development overall as the widespread existence of such technology would be of great use to criminals and terrorists.

  2. maupassant says:

    Not allowing anonymity is the on-line equivalent to police being able to stop anybody, anywhere, anytime and demand “Papieren, bitte.” In fact, it’s worse in the sense that it’s equivalent to having your identity documents stamped on your forehead.
    The Post’s insistence on the term “sock puppetry” seems intended to attach an air of deceipt and illegality to the practice of anonymity.

  3. robertson says:

    There is a difference between anonymity and impersonation. I suggest that someone who is personally involved in a situation and who comments under an assumed name is not simply anonymous, he/she is impersonating someone who does not have an interest. Knowing a person’s interest in a situation is often helpful in evaluating his/her comment on it.

    It is very hard to define ahead of time the kind of lawsuits that may not be brought, as distinct from the kind that eventually lose. Judges are reluctant to throw a case out of court before hearing the evidence and the arguments. This means that winning is expensive, which is hard on the party with less money (often but not always the defendant in a libel action.)

    The intermediary publisher, though, has no incentive to fight, and much incentive to yield, i.e. to take down the comments that are alleged to be libellous (or to infringe copyright, etc) rather than to investigate. This is a problem that makes “law reform” even harder, since it’s not the rules of law that push the publisher to delete, just the fear of costs.

    There can be rules to bar liability of intermediaries, or even to make costs awards against people who sue intemediaries (like publishers), but they are not free of problems in practice too.

    When is anonymity justified? as a defence against a “bad” law, or to spare one the inconvenience of having to defend oneself? When is that unfair to the person who may in fact be unfairly defamed, and whose reputation is being unjustly smeared?

  4. D. Escalator says:

    anonymity in politics need not be \”ju
    “When is anonymity justified? as a defence against a “bad” law” or over-powerful officials or plaintiffs at least. In politics, it is always justified, as\”having to defend oneself” against those who have, or seek, the power of the state, is unfair by definition. Those people are trying to gain at least some control over the violent enforcement powers to bully and coerce others into line. They have declared their intent, and it’s not up to their critics to try to guess how far they might take things. So anyone commenting on politics has every right to stay anonymous, period. That’s why we have a secret ballot and other traditions to uphold political privacy.

    \”When is that unfair to the person who may in fact be unfairly defamed, and whose reputation is being unjustly smeared? ”

    When it happens before they file lawsuits, or includes comments on their personal or business affairs that aren\’t relevant to the political or social issue at hand. No matter who much you disagree with someone, you must confine anonymous comment about them to their public actions and political views relevant to their public actions and whatever of their business and personal life is directly relevant to those and fairly presented.

    However, once someone files a lawsuit to restrict political comment about themselves, or uses an official post or power to harass opponents, you owe them nothing, and all methods including 1. sock puppets 2. anonymizers 3. P2P distribution of unfavourable and slanted materials, seem fair game. After all, they used powers that are already unfairly distributed just by filing a lawsuit at all. So something must equalize this.

    If they persist or use some extraordinarily power or some contact in other countries to shut this down, or seem to have the ability to get some policy enforced selectively by say the public broadcaster, then other methods including personal humiliation and a direct assault on their business interests would be justified.

    But in none of these cases would outright lying or the deliberate omission of some material fact be acceptable.That might cross the line to criminal libel. However, if the subject matter remains in
    the political realm, and of public interest, then, only oppressive countries permit such charges to
    be laid by officials. Oops! Canada’s libel laws do, contrary to the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, permit criminal charges to be laid for political comment. Ah well, it’s not the first time the honest citizen has been forced to break criminal law in order to get the truth out or justice done, eh?

    Using extreme technological prowess to propagate these messages may even be a military attack, by the definitions now used in “information warfare”. You don’t go that far unless it is clear that the laws and official channels are so slanted that you must attack the political structure itself.

  5. shoes
    that the laws and official channels are so slanted that you must
    the political structure itself.