I haven’t tracked down a link, but some of you have probably seen this one.
A blogger, writing anonymously/pseudonymously, posted something about someone else (by name) that at least appears to be slander–that is, stating (possible) falsehoods in a manner likely to damage the other person, with reckless disregard for the truth.
Note the difference between opinion (“So-and-so is an awful person”–not generally actionable) and falsehoods (“So-and-so takes bribes”–actionable, albeit not the issue in this case).
The person slandered is suing–and demanded the blogger’s name from their host. And got it.
So far so good…until some people started screaming about the First Amendment and the long tradition of anonymity.
The First Amendment is not at issue*SEE “Clarification”*
The First Amendment prevents prior restraint against speech (except in very narrow cases).
It does not and should not assure that speech never has consequences.
There’s a huge difference between being free to say any fool thing you want–and being able to do so without ever facing consequences. Otherwise, there could be no libel & slander laws. I, for one, wouldn’t really want that–although I appreciate that U.S. libel & slander laws tend to work in favor of speakers rather than those spoken about. (Not true in many other jurisdictions.)
Assured anonymity under all circumstances means speech without consequences. Not automatically a good thing, Tom Paine or no Tom Paine.
Am I wrong? Should the identity of a blogger be protected even when the blogger uses that shield to engage in illegal activities?
The subhead “The First Amendment is not at issue” was a shorthand way of saying, “If Person X has defamed Person Y in a manner that’s legally actionable, and Person X is hiding behind anonymity, the First Amendment should not protect Person X’s anonymity.”
I did not intend to say that the First Amendment was never a factor in libel & slander cases. I certainly did not intend to say that prior restraint is 100% of the First Amendment. I did–and do–say that the First Amendment does not assure that speech never has consequences.
This was a quick post, posted because I do care about free speech (heck, I was at UC Berkeley from 1962-1979, as a student and staff member), I do believe anonymity has many legitimate uses, and it bothers me to see what I regard as a misuse of First Amendment claims–such as what I saw as a claim that the First Amendment should always assure anonymity.
The speed with which the post was written resulted in a too-terse subhead. My apologies.