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Judge orders identities of bloggers to be divulged

Posted June 29, 2010

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— A Superior Court judge has ordered the editor of a local blog to divulge the names of several people who posted defamatory comments about a former Vance County commissioner.

Tommy Hester wanted to get the names of up to 20 people who made anonymous posts on the Home In Henderson website, but Judge Howard Manning ruled Monday that the other posts weren't libelous and were protected by the First Amendment.

The case stems from a news report last year in which Henderson police charged a boarding house manager after finding eight people living in unsanitary conditions.

Some Home In Henderson bloggers posted negative comments about Hester on the site after learning he owned the property. Authorities said his tenant had sublet it to the eight people without his knowledge.

Website editor Jason Feingold declined to comment Tuesday on Manning's ruling. He has 15 days to turn over the names of the bloggers to Hester and his attorney, Boyd Sturges.

"(The ruling) vindicates the idea that a person cannot say anything they want to in the cover of anonymity,” Sturges said.

Raymond Pierce, dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, agreed with Sturges.

"We have to remember that not all speech is protected by the Constitution," Pierce said, adding that he expects to see more blog-related lawsuits in the future.

"These sources of information are not necessarily based on the type of traditional journalism that we have seen in the history of this country," he said.

Computer generic, typing generic, online generic, Internet generic Identities of bloggers must be revealed in lawsuit

A group of state senators wanted to make it a misdemeanor to libel someone through electronic means. The bill, which never made it out of committee, would have covered e-mail, blogs and online forums, and the target of the electronic comments could request an apology and a correction.

Heather McCoy, a blogger in Orange County, said people who make statements anonymously online shouldn't be surprised that a judge would demand their real identity.

"I think that people who post on the Internet should be responsible for what they write, and I don't think there is anonymity on the Internet," McCoy said.

Orange County resident David Wilson said anonymity is needed in some cases where people could face severe consequences for speaking out.

"In countries where there's political oppression, like China perhaps, it's important that there is some modicum of anonymity," Wilson said.

Yet, his wife said that websites give bloggers cover to insult people by allowing them to post anonymously.

"You are sitting in the privacy of your own home. You can fire off whatever you want," Twyla Wilson said.

Pierce said courts will have to strike a balance between free speech and responsibility as such cases are filed.

"We don't want to chill free speech to the point where people are hesitant to comment and express themselves," he said.


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  • mpheels Jun 30, 2010

    The big factor here is the nature of the comments. Freedom of speech means you have the right to express your opinions and state the facts without fear of legal ramifications. It does not mean you are free from social, political, or civil ramifications. If you say or write something that is libelous or defamatory, you may have to face the consequences. A person who is harmed by libelous internet postings has every right to pursue a civil case. The judge in this case is 100% correct to order the IDs of the defamatory posters while allowing others to remain anonymous.

    As a side note - it is cases like these that push sites like WRAL/GOLO to moderate so heavily. They do not want to be held responsible for libel/slander on their site or caught in a situation where they're subpoenaed for the names or IP addresses of commenters.

  • pw Jun 30, 2010

    It is very eay to locate IP addresses.....there is no such thing as anonymous if your using technology period. don't know why people don't get that.These days everyone can be tracked.Your tracked at the grocery store when you use your kroger, food lion card etc. If you want privacy don't use internet and don't use credit cards and banks etc. etc.....Otherwise your fair game

  • butterpie Jun 29, 2010

    Free speech, yes. Anonymity, no. We should have to own up to what we say. There have already been cases where irreparable damage has been done because people hid their identities on the internet. It's sad that it takes a ruling to cause people to be responsible.

  • CoCo Jun 29, 2010

    "We don't want to chill free speech to the point where people are hesitant to comment and express themselves," he said.

    Oh really?

  • amyrn Jun 29, 2010

    He won't necessarily get the real names, will he? Many people use a bogus email account like Yahoo that doesn't make you give your true identity. So, unless they are going to start trying to track IP addresses, good luck with that one!