Recently, in Barrett v. Rosenthal, the California Supreme Court held, similar to most courts addressing the issue, that bloggers are immune from being sued for “distributor” liability under defamation law. Under defamation law, the original speaker of a defamatory statement (a false statement that harms a person’s reputation) is liable. A “distributor,” one who further disseminates a falsehood spoken by another and who “knows or should have known” about the defamatory nature of a statement, is also liable. A federal law, 47 U.S.C. § 230, however, provides: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Most courts have interpreted § 230 to immunize the operators of websites or blogs against distributor liability for comments posted by others.
Per Paul Caron’s invitation, I’ve decided to write up a short paper based on my comments at the Harvard Bloggership Conference. It is a 5-page essay entitled A Tale of Two Bloggers: Free Speech and Privacy in the Blogosphere. It will be published as part of the symposium. From the abstract:
The ending of this season’s The Apprentice (with Donald Trump) has everybody talking. Rebecca Jarvis and Randal Pinkett were the finalists, both of whom Trump thought were outstanding stars. He hired Randal and later asked Randal whether he should also hire Rebecca. Randal said “no” because “there can be only one Apprentice” and the show is called “the Apprentice, not the Apprenti [sic].” Ann Althouse has more details and extensive commentary here and here.
Howard Bashman at How Appealing muses whether anonymous blogging is really possible:
These days, however, most users of the internet understand that every bit of information communicated electronically leaves electronic fingerprints that can be used to trace the source of the information, even if the source hoped to remain anonymous. To be sure, there are ways to anonymize emails and other forms of communication, but they tend to be complicated to use and difficult to figure out. . . .
I doubt whether anonymous blogging is possible. It surely isn’t possible if the blogger conducts email correspondence with others and fails to mask his or her internet protocol address. Plus, even the act of logging on to a blogging service provider, such as TypePad or blogger, leaves electronic fingerprints, and I’d have to assume that “UTR” had a TypePad subscription, enabling someone to subpoena the blog owner’s identity and/or payment information. So, to you anonymous bloggers out there, have fun, but don’t fool yourselves into thinking that simply by not providing your identity you are doing an effective job of remaining hidden.