Balancing Act: Finding Consensus on Standards for Unmasking Anonymous Internet Speakers
38 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2010
Date Written: May 2010
The growth in popular use of the internet has led to a dramatic increase in both the amount of anonymous speech and the number of aggrieved plaintiffs claiming to be harmed by it. Lawsuits involving anonymous internet speech present thorny questions for courts because plaintiffs typically must obtain the identity of anonymous speakers during discovery before any adjudication of the underlying claim. Compelled disclosure of identifying information thus risks chilling speech by subjecting anonymous speakers who have done nothing illegal to unwarranted harassment and retaliation. In response to these concerns, courts have formulated “unmasking” standards for determining when to allow anonymous speakers to be identified. This Note examines trends within various unmasking standards and proposes a single standard for future courts that requires notice, an evaluation on the merits of the plaintiff’s claim, and a balancing of the First Amendment rights of the anonymous speaker against the strength of the plaintiff’s claim and the need for unmasking.
Keywords: Anonymous, speech, internet
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