No info for you: A newspaper’s bid to keep a lid on online information

Independent Newspapers is fighting to keep the identity of anonymous posters on its Web site — secret. But one angry doughnut shop owner, whose Maryland store was the target of what he considers libelous and anonymous online speech on the newspaper’s Web site, is fighting to uncover — and discover — his critics.

To recap: A newspaper fighting to squelch information. Critics hiding behind anonymity. And no way available to seek civil remedies without knowing the identity of the culprits.

An excerpt from the Washington Post:

For advocates of strong protections for anonymous speech and the Internet, online chat rooms are the 21st-century successors to the town square and the political pamphlet.

“There’s a long tradition in U.S. history of at least anonymous political speech, and certainly when you contemplate the Internet and the new opportunities it offers, this is the way a lot of speech happens,” Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizens Media Law Project at Harvard Law School, said in an interview.

At the same time, however, many argue that the First Amendment should not become a shield for those responsible for defamatory remarks. The reach of the Internet has allowed anonymous speech to potentially influence more people than ever, compounding the harm of a false claim.

In the case of Independent Newspapers v. Brodie, the right to free speech has bumped up against the right to seek redress in court for civil wrongs.

Washington Post story here. AM Law Daily story here.

Sigh here.

-Christy

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