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Anonymous Web ‘Trolls’ Are Targeted By Company Lawyers

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http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-29/-trolls-who-complain-online-have-anonymity-targeted-in-british-lawsuits.html

People who use fake names to post critical comments about companies on websites may not be as anonymous as they think, as firms use the courts to unmask online accusers.

MoneySavingExpert, a British personal finance site with 5 million readers, was forced to hand over personal details about three users calling themselves Againstjpc, GomerPyle and Ladybirds, following a London court ruling in August. The three wrote comments on the website accusing JPC Group Sales Ltd., an affiliate of a U.K. publishing company, of being a “criminal enterprise” and “a scam,” the company said in court filings.

Similar orders have been granted in the U.K. over comments posted on Google Inc. (GOOG) blogs and comment boards at its YouTube unit’s website, said Yair Cohen, a lawyer for JPC. Louise Rutter, spokeswoman for Mountain View, California-based Google, declined to comment.

“There have been a few of these cases and they are becoming more common,” said Korieh Duodu, a media law specialist at London firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP. “It is clear there is a significant footprint left by Web users, who are not always aware of how much information can be revealed about their identities when they publish material online.”

While Internet users have traditionally enjoyed the freedom to air controversial views without using real names, courts can order websites to hand over e-mail and Internet-protocol addresses, and other personal details, if anonymous comments go too far. A person who disrupts Web forums with inflammatory or offensive remarks is known as a “troll” in Internet slang.

‘Online Anonymity’

Disclosing the identity of Web users shouldn’t be taken lightly, said Eric King, human rights and technology adviser at advocacy group Privacy International. It could even be illegal, unless the comments caused serious harm.

“Online anonymity is a hugely important aspect of the right to privacy,” he said.

In 2007, the owner of a fan site for soccer club Sheffield Wednesday was forced to disclose the identities of several users after what a judge described as a “sustained campaign of vilification” against the club’s directors. Financial websites Motley Fool and Interactive Investor had to provide information about a user known as Zeddust in 2001, following a lawsuit filed by internet service provider Totalise Plc.

In the U.S., with stricter laws protecting freedom of speech, judges have sometimes found in favor of victims of online abuse. Former model Liskula Cohen won an order from a New York judge in 2009 requiring Google to identify a blogger who defamed her, while another model, Carla Franklin, won a similar ruling in 2010 over comments made on YouTube.

Court Order

Cohen, the JPC lawyer at firm Bains Cohen, said the company would now apply for an order against Internet provider TalkTalk Telecom Group Plc (TALK) to get the physical address of one of the individuals who posted the remarks on MoneySavingExpert. The company plans to sue the person for defamation, he said.

TalkTalk said in a statement it “would never disclose any information” without a court order.

JPC, part of the Wyvern Media brand which publishes the Lincolnshire Telegraph and the North London Chronicle, said in an e-mailed statement that anonymous posters of abuse cost small businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds every month. “We are determined to bring our abusers to justice,” it said.

Brendan Perrett, head of operations at MoneySavingExpert, said the site hadn’t initially provided information about its users because of its privacy policy and the U.K. Data Protection Act.

“The job of balancing the consumer viewpoint and right to give their views without letting people unfairly tarnish companies’ reputations is never an easy one,” he said.

Duodu said the issue of freedom of speech had to be considered by companies deciding to tackle online abuse.

“The other concern for corporations is that they should be wary of stifling genuine debate. Seeking the closure of websites because of a few detractors can lead to a massive public relations own goal,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kit Chellel in London cchellel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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Its the new world, a new market to break into. The internet is like the US during the wild west. Fortunes are made. One successful test case is all that is needed, and there's plenty of work out there if viable. Think how easy it is to "google" a company name, and sift through the posts using a clever robot. 90% of posters don't hide their IP address, so easy to track them down.

It is already starting with the chap fined $60K for downloading music.

Beware.

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Its the new world, a new market to break into. The internet is like the US during the wild west. Fortunes are made.

Quite, I think I might buy some shares in anonymous proxies!

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Everyone is entilted to their own opion, as long as you are not specifically targeting or deliberately bad mouthing a particular company or person then there is no problem in having your say.

Anyway Ive already got 'allegedly' at the bottom of each post so im covered :D

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Everyone is entilted to their own opion, as long as you are not specifically targeting or deliberately bad mouthing a particular company or person then there is no problem in having your say.

Anyway Ive already got 'allegedly' at the bottom of each post so im covered :D

It's only a problem if it's not true and 9/10 it is home truths that aren't popular

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Quite, I think I might buy some shares in anonymous proxies!

Or set up troll finding farms! 'have you been affected by trolling and its not your fault then call.....'

I suppose all these lawyers will have to find another avenue as claiming for personal injury is coming to a head!

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websites like urbanspoon would collapse if this goes much further

whats the point of reviewing stuff online if you can only post positive comments?

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websites like urbanspoon would collapse if this goes much further

whats the point of reviewing stuff online if you can only post positive comments?

Fantastic post by ruffneck. Will read again! A+++++++!!!!

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they have a major legal problem with ANY of this because they can prove the IP but they cannot prove who typed it unless you CONFESS.

Exactly. Even requiring a password doesn't prove who did it. They will hope for a confession. But if that doesn't happen then they are sh1t out of luck.

It's a typical scare story to try to frighten the masses. Though I don't agree with libelous statements. Hiding behind a pseudoname is lame if you are telling lies.

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Everyone is entilted to their own opion, as long as you are not specifically targeting or deliberately bad mouthing a particular company or person then there is no problem in having your say.

Anyway Ive already got 'allegedly' at the bottom of each post so im covered :D

Me too, since the thread we discussed it, about three weeks ago.

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Exactly. Even requiring a password doesn't prove who did it. They will hope for a confession. But if that doesn't happen then they are sh1t out of luck.

That does not sound at all right. It is not the state bringing the case, so it would be some sort of a civil matter. Those don't need a proof beyond reasonable doubt, and litigation in this country is ruinously expensive. We are not talking £10k or something similarly trivial. The amount required to hire a decent barrister is truly staggering, and life-changing for many of those who can afford it at all.

I understand that the burden of proof in libel cases can end up reversed, so if you say X is a crook and she objects then it's your job to show that she is. It might seem reasonable in that it would be hard for her to prove a negative, but it is also clear how it introduces a whole new set of horrible dangers. In particular, one worrying aspect of this is that she cannot have a judgment awarded against her while you can (though these can often be dwarfed by costs).

Intimidation by litigation *does* work. Just ask Simon Singh if you don't believe me.

I am certainly not an expert, and none of this is advice. However, you may want to think very carefully before making a libelous comment in the hope that "I refuse to confess" will be a sufficient defense. AFAIK, the only two reliable defenses are being pennyless, or being very wealthy *and* able to prove that what you claimed was substantially true.

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For those users stating that as long as it's true it's not defamation - you are correct. However to get to the stage where a judge decides that could take a year or more during which time your bank account will run dry with travel costs, photocopying fees, legal advice and whatever job you have will have gone as you spend all day and night responding to various documents and sitting in court waiting. You could of course just not respond to any action but then you'll be found guilty by default and face a bill of maybe £50k+.

It really comes down to which party has the most money and time. It's got nothing to do with guilt or evidence.

I know this because I have been in this situation last year. It took 18 months to get to the stage where we *almost* talked about actual evidence. The entire 18 months was taken up with paperwork and arguing semantics. I won in the end because I didn't give up and the other company had too many skeletons in their many cupboards for them to come out in open court but it wasn't worth the time and money I spent.

That fact that their laywer was an idiot certainly helped but it was a close call. Would have been cheaper to buy an AK-47 and sort it out "informally".

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

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AFAIK, the only two reliable defenses are being pennyless, or being very wealthy *and* able to prove that what you claimed was substantially true.

I would say being very wealthy is the only defence. Even if you are factually correct you may not last long enough financially for it to be tested. If you want to make an example of someone it's probably best that they are penniless.

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That does not sound at all right. It is not the state bringing the case, so it would be some sort of a civil matter. Those don't need a proof beyond reasonable doubt, and litigation in this country is ruinously expensive. We are not talking £10k or something similarly trivial. The amount required to hire a decent barrister is truly staggering, and life-changing for many of those who can afford it at all.

I understand that the burden of proof in libel cases can end up reversed, so if you say X is a crook and she objects then it's your job to show that she is. It might seem reasonable in that it would be hard for her to prove a negative, but it is also clear how it introduces a whole new set of horrible dangers. In particular, one worrying aspect of this is that she cannot have a judgment awarded against her while you can (though these can often be dwarfed by costs).

Intimidation by litigation *does* work. Just ask Simon Singh if you don't believe me.

I am certainly not an expert, and none of this is advice. However, you may want to think very carefully before making a libelous comment in the hope that "I refuse to confess" will be a sufficient defense. AFAIK, the only two reliable defenses are being pennyless, or being very wealthy *and* able to prove that what you claimed was substantially true.

You are forgetting that the case would never make it to court in the first place. The point is that you cannot prove who the perpetrator is, you can't just sue anyone you choose without having proof you have the right person.

Otherwise you are right in your statement, the case would be probability, as it's civil.

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I am just one of those people who is going through the nightmare scenario of fighting a defamation claim because of a workplace related complaint

If anyone on here can help me with the name of a good barrister please pm on here.

Thanks

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Anyone know how long ISPs that give you a dynamic IP address keep a record of who was using what address at what time?

I seem to have some vague recollection of a NuLab law that required them to keep logs of everything for a year. Not sure if it was ever implemented though.

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