Read most any online newspaper, website, blog, or the like and you’re likely to see this creature — the anonymous internet troll. He lives for the opportunity to hide behind his anonymity while throwing stones of hate, ignorance, stupidity, or just downright being mean.
Spam ads, name calling, fight picking. Those are one thing. Defaming others anonymously. That’s another issue.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled on a case involving the difficult first hurdle when action is actually sought against a troll who many not be easily identifiable — the plaintiff’s unmasking the anonymous online commentators.
In the case, an Illinois newspaper opened online comments to an article on a local political candidate for county board, Bill Hadley. Anonymous poster “Fuboy” posted a (per se) defamatory comment as follows:
Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed. Check out the view he has of Empire [grade school in Freeport, Illinois] from his front door.
And later posted:
Anybody know the tale of Hadley’s suicide attempt? It is kinda ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with Pottersville win[n]ing out. We can just be happy that Stephenson County is fortunate enough to have this guy want to be of ‘service’ again.
Hadley sued the unknown poster for defamation, using only his screen name “Fuboy”, and sought his identity from Comcast, via the IP address, by subpoena. Both the circuit court and appellate court ordered Comcast to turn over the subscriber’s identity, and the subscriber appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In Hadley v. Subscriber Doe a/k/a Fuboy, 2015 IL 118000, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ decisions that the subscriber identity should be released to Hadley (under Ill. Supreme Court Rule 224 to determine the identity of the individual who may be responsible for damages). Furthermore, the Court opined on the content of the anonymous post’s content being defamation per se as it mets one of the five per se categories in Illinois: words imputing the commission of a crime.
Fuboy’s statement was defamatory per se because it imputed the commission of a crime; that it was not reasonably capable of an innocent construction; and that it could reasonably be interpreted as stating an actual fact.
So, anonymous trolls… be warned. Not only may your identity be revealed, you may be exposed to court awarded damages against you personally.
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