19 August 2009

Google Forced to Unmask Identity of Anonymous Blogger

A former Vogue Australia cover girl has won a landmark court battle to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who called her a "skank" and an "old hag".

Model Liskula Cohen sued Google in January in the hope of forcing the company to reveal the person responsible for allegedly defamatory comments on a blog called Skanks in NYC, which was hosted by Google's Blogger service.

"I would have to say the first-place award for 'Skankiest in NYC' would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen," the anonymous blogger wrote.

"How old is this skank? 40 something? She's a psychotic, lying, whoring, still going to clubs at her age, skank."

Cohen, who is actually 37, believed the posts were defamatory but was forced to take action against Google in order to unmask the blogger's identity before she could take further action.

On Monday in the US, Judge Joan Madden (PDF document) ruled that Cohen was entitled to sue the blogger for defamation and, in an unprecedented move, forced Google to provide the blogger's name.

The name will presumably be revealed in court. It is unclear when the matter will return to court.

The tall, blonde Canadian, who is based in New York, has modelled for Giorgio Armani and Versace and appeared on the cover of the Australian edition of Vogue.

But Cohen's modelling career ground to a halt in January 2007 when a man stabbed her in the face with a broken glass, requiring her to get 46 stitches, the New York Post reported.

The man, who was sent to jail, became angry after she objected to him stealing a bottle of vodka from her table.

“I’m tall, I’m blond, I’ve been modeling for many years, and people get jealous,” Cohen said in her defense. “If I had to deal with everyone who is jealous, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else.”

Judge Madden rejected the claims by the blogger's lawyer that the comments were mere opinion or "trash talk", and that only factual assertions could be considered libellous.

"The thrust of the blog is that the petitioner is a sexually promiscuous woman," Judge Madden wrote in her judgment, noting that the comments were run alongside photos of Cohen in suggestive poses.

The blog, which was shut down in March, was almost entirely devoted to slagging off Cohen. It contained just five entries, all of which were published on August 21 last year.

"I really hope it's not somebody I know," Cohen told the New York Post.

"I'm a human being. I bleed. I have feelings. When I saw that blog, it was awful. All I can say for this person is, I really truly hope that they have more in their life than this."

Cohen's lawyer, Steven Wagner, told reporters that he hoped the decision would send a message that the internet was "not a free-for-all".

Anne Salisbury, the lawyer for the blogger, warned that the ruling would open the "floodgates" for anyone who has been the subject of a nasty comment online to take legal action.

A Google spokeswoman said: "We sympathise with anyone who may be the victim of cyber bullying. We also take great care to respect privacy concerns and will only provide information about a user in response to a subpoena or other court order."

This also means that Google will have to reveal the identity of the blogger in question; an important move that will set a precedent for future cases such as this one.  However, as we all know, the internet is full of offensive comments and broad negative statements of all kinds. On the upside, this decision will make people think twice about posting offensive posts and comments about someone, as they’re no longer protected by a shroud of anonymity. On the other hand, it might trigger a flood of similar lawsuits, perhaps for trivial reasons, which can in turn have serious implications on everyone’s online privacy.

What do you think? Was judge’s Madden decision the right one? Please voice your opinion in the comments.

sources: Sydney Morning Herald and Mashable



8 comments:

  1. would the McCAnns form a support group with this lovely woman (obviously in distress because at her age she is an old woman to be a model?. In therapy this is called disociation: Anything that disturbs my false image of reality, will be destroyed.

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  2. I do believe that anyone is entitled to her/his good name. If google alowed this women to be insulted in a way that it congigurates an attempt to those person's individual rights, I agree that the particular blogger identity is revealed.
    However it might set a precedent that can become very dangerous for the freedom of expression.

    Luz

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  3. I have to agree and disagree, at the same time.
    I mean, one thing is to voice an opinion, another completely different thing is to hide behind anonymity to attack others for no good reason, saying the most vile and offensive things that they would not have the courage to do in public. We all have been targets of this, at one time or the other, I believe.

    However, I am also concerned that perfectly acceptable opinions will be tossed into the same bag just because someone with time and money didn't like or don't agree with what others say or think.
    All things considered, I would have to disagree with the Judge decision. That's a can of worms I definitely believe should remain shut. The blog in question has already been closed by Google, so I don't think a precedent should be opened.
    NR

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  4. I think its good, I have often hoped the McCanns would hit me with libel for my offerings on the blog I was doing...its about the most likely way to get the McCanns in to court to answer some of the stuff we all comment and blog on.

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  5. There is a danger of this case opening a precedent mainly in countries where freedom of expression is oppressed and censured as someone said in a comment at mashable "What's next? Ahmadinejad forcing Google/Twitter/Facebook to reveal the names about those reporting on the post-election crackdown of opposition in Iran?".

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  6. http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/arts_entertainment/media/blogging+anonymity+not+guaranteed/3314387



    ironside

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  7. I am glad to see this decision by the court and hope it has set a precedent. I have been the victim of really savage lies by someone who actually set up a blog just to publish my personal details and make up stories. Those stories had the potential to affect my livelihood as I am totally dependent on agency work. In one post, the evil person said that I had been suspended on four weeks' pay for some kind of misconduct. They were two years out of date with my work place and if I were to be suspended, it would be on no pay. Agency workers do not get paid if they are suspended.

    Google has been contacted and two police forces in the UK are working on this problem, which only occurred because of my support for Mike Hitchen which a couple of people took exception to. A couple of people may find themselves in deep water!!

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  8. The Mccann's can't take any action against most of the bloggers: What we are doing here it is discussing the actions and the behaviour of a pair of parents which left 3 babys alone night after night, in a foreign country and because of that behaviour, one of their cilds end up in a serious harm- SHE disapeared leaving no traces....
    After all, Gerry set up a BLOG to blame everybody about what happened to his daughter and clean his and his wife face , writing day after day a diary where official polices and all the portuguese nation was insulted. Trillions of people in the world disagree with most of the options done by this parents to find their daughter. THEY ARE THE FIRST ONES WHICH BRING THEIR LIFE TO PUBLIC EYES.... THEN THEY OPEN THE WINDOWS TO THE PUBLIC AND THIS HAS A PRICE. IF you want privacy you should preserve your life and don't come to the media with unsustentable excuses. FAKE ABDUCTORS AND FAKE SIGHTINGS OF MADDIE ARE RIDICULOUS EXCUSES TO APPEAR IN THE MEDIA FROM THE ENTIRE WORLD.

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