The Unmasking Option
Cornell Law School; Cornell Tech
March 4, 2010
Denver University Law Review Online, Vol. 887, No. 23, 2010
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10 #28
In the recent "Skanks in NYC" case, the plaintiff dropped her defamation lawsuit once the court had unmasked the John Doe defendant. Although the plaintiff was criticized for her seemingly pretextual use of a lawsuit, the outcome was substantively just. The harasser got almost exactly what she deserved for trying to humiliate her victim: embarrassment of her own.
This brief essay discusses a counterintuitive proposal inspired by the Skanks in NYC case: that the law unmask anonymous online harassers as a substitute for litigation, rather than as an aid to it. Identifying harassers can be an effective way of holding them accountable, while causing less of a chilling effect on socially valuable speech than liability would. While the proposal itself is probably unworkable, decoupling anonymity from liability enables us to understand more clearly what’s at stake with each.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 8
Keywords: privacy, anonymity, defamation, John Doe subpoena, Internet harassment
JEL Classification: K00
Date posted: March 5, 2010
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