What are the rights of the ‘Skanks in NYC’ blogger?
Update: ‘Skanks in NYC’ blogger plans to sue Google for $15 million and her lawyer compares her to America’s Founding Fathers. See new post. Newer update: Privacy expert says those plans will probably not work out.
This privacy story has been making the rounds in New York this week. Someone anonymously created a blog called “Skanks in NYC” and used it primarily to bash model Liskula Cohen. The blogger called Cohen a skank, a ho, and an old hag, among other nasty things, and posted photos of her, taken from various websites.
Cohen was not pleased and wanted to pursue a defamation lawsuit. That’s hard though, when you don’t know the identity of the person defaming you. Her lawyer asked the judge to force Google to reveal the identity of the blogger, whose blog was hosted by Google-owned Blogger.
The anonymous blogger’s lawyer resisted:
The blogger’s lawyer claimed that the views expressed were “hyperbole” and that blogs “have evolved as the modern-day soapbox for personal opinions.”
The lawyer also offered the view that blogs have “mere venting purposes, affording the less outspoken a protected forum for voicing gripes, leveling invective, and ranting about anything at all.”
The blogger’s lawyer did not manage to convince the judge with that argument. On Monday, the judge ordered Google to turn the blogger in, or at least reveal her e-mail and IP address. Cohen was able to use that to figure out who the woman was. It turns out it’s someone Cohen knows socially. Now, thanks to court papers filed yesterday, we all know who she is:
Yesterday, after Cohen filed a $3 million defamation lawsuit against her nemesis, court papers at last revealed the blogger’s identity: one Rosemary Port, an unemployed nightclub hostess, “promoter,” and telemarketer.
According to the New York Post, it’s a classic girlfight. Port badmouthed Cohen online because Cohen had said nasty things about her to Port’s boyfriend. Gothamist hunted down Port’s photo on Facebook. It shows her lying naked in bed. It’s… well… it’s a bit skanky.
Privacy groups are concerned by the precedent set by the judge in forcing Google to reveal Port’s identity:
[U]sing the court system to successfully out the person establishes a troubling legal precedent, online privacy groups argue…
Such cases have popped up enough to earn their own moniker, “CyberSLAPP.” Cyberslapp.org, a Web-site developed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others, says these suits are:
“… threatening to overturn the promise of anonymous online speech and chill the freedom of expression that is central to the online world. CyberSLAPP cases typically involve a person who has posted anonymous criticisms of a corporation or public figure on the Internet. The target of the criticism then files a frivolous lawsuit just so they can issue a subpoena to the Web site or Internet Service Provider (ISP) involved, discover the identity of their anonymous critic, and intimidate or silence them.”
The San Francisco Chronicle has more experts weigh in on the case, who all agree that this is “a tough intersection of free speech and defamation.”
Interestingly, the model, Cohen, decided last night to drop her $3 million defamation suit against Port, which gives some credence to the claim that this may have been a ‘frivolous lawsuit just” to “issue a subpoena to the Web site or Internet Service Provider (ISP) involved, discover the identity of [an] anonymous critic, and intimidate” them.
I think the lesson is: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it on the Internet unless you’re okay with the fact that you might one day get outed.