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Idaho Case Shows Limits Of Anonymous Comments Online

Jessica Robinson


Online free speech experts say people who like to post fiery comments on the internet should take heed of a north Idaho case. A judge said this week that the right to remain anonymous does not extend to a commenter who insinuated someone committed a crime.

District Court Judge John Luster says the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper has to reveal the identity of a commenter known as “almostinnocentbystander.” He or she made comments on a north Idaho blog run by the newspaper that suggested the chairwoman of the local Republican Party had embezzled $10,000.

Kevin Bankston is an attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology, which advocates for free speech protections, even for those who remain anonymous. But he says in this case, the judge’s ruling is in-line with the accepted standard.

“I think anonymous speakers should recognize that certainly the law does allow them to be unmasked in certain cases," Bankston says. "Especially if what they have said is likely to be found defamatory by a court.”

The judge did not rule that the comments are defamatory. That’s the subject of a lawsuit against the anonymous commenter.

The Idaho judge also said the newspaper did not have to reveal the identities of two additional commenters who responded to the original post.

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