TOLEDO (TDB) -- SwampBubbles is now caught up in a legal fray that could test whether anonymous commenters on Ohio's blogs can hide their identities. And the lawsuit is likely to give consolation to targets who think they have been defamed and victimized by false statements. The blogosphere can be -- and often is -- a no-holds-barred environment. It is common practice for people to leave anonymous comments. They might suspect there is no trail back to the source. But there is a trail, and it can lead to trouble. Reconstructing the trail might be difficult, -- it can wind through out-of-state Internet service providers and other pit stops on the digital highway -- but it can be traced.
That trail and where it leads seems at the heart of a legal action over anonymous website comments that Leverette Junior High School Principal Steven Riddle considers defamatory. Riddle went to court over postings related to a sexual battery incident involving the arrest of a school employee last November. SwampBubbles is a community blog that covers news, politics and public affairs in NW Ohio. LisaRenee Ward at GlassCityJungle in Toledo has more about the legal fray in Lucas County.
This is the latest flap. Last September, a Republican Wood County Commissioner in Bowling Green was outed as a gay man by an anonymous comment left on Jeff Coryell's Ohio Daily Blog. It was a strategic leak designed to foreclose a bid for Congress in OH-05; there was no court action.
Now, the school principal's lawsuit before Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook has LisaRenee musing about anonymous comments. She has concerns. Indeed, the lawsuit probably brings up an issue that needs to be aired: What is fair, and fair game for comment?
At The Daily Bellwether, I kept the comment moderation switch on for months, and limited comments because "anonymous" just made me feel uncomfortable. Then I switched to unmoderated last September and have allowed anybody say anything they wanted -- anonymous or not. In the past few days, I've been growing uneasy about some of the back-and-forth over the OH-02 Democratic primary. There have been some harsh attacks against Steve Black and Vic Wulsin written by "anonymous" people. Now, with lawsuits in the air -- and the courts unlikely to protect anonymous character assassination and assassins who use the Ohiosphere for their attacks -- the time may have come to flip the comment moderation switch on again.
Or, The Bellwether could say that it would vow never to reveal any information ever. That vow clearly would be impossible to keep. A court could order computers seized; it could order Blogger to give up data; it could pry open the browsers. There may be free speech on the Internet, but there may not be any cloak of anonymity for those doing the speaking. The Toledo lawsuit is probably going to make that a lot more clear in the months ahead.