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Court Protects Anonymous Blogs October 7, 2005

Posted by Tycho in Chatter.

In an extremely unique and pertinent topic, the Detroit Free Press reports on a recent case presented to the Delaware Supreme Court where Smyrna councilman Patrick Cahill had petitioned the lower court to reveal the identities of four anonymous bloggers who, among other charges, had caused him “obvious mental deterioration.”  The comments were posted on a site operated by Independent Newspapers Inc., who publishes the Delaware State News.  In June of this year, the lower court agreed with Cahill’s allegations of defamation and ordered Comcast to reveal the bloggers’ identities.

Today, however, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned that decision by the lower court, stating that Cahill’s allegations were lacking in proof.  In boldly upholding our First Amendment right to free and anonymous speech, Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote:

“We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously.  The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all.”

That possibility of losing our freedom of anonymous speech is very real, believe me.  Part of the reason I’m so excited about this blog the allure of speaking to an audience with relative anonymity.  My pseudonym protects both me and my words.  If you, my readers, knew who I was, I would be much more hesitant to openly speak my mind.  Instead, I would be constantly aware that those whom I might speak out against could later use my words against me, and as such, I would choose to restrain my speech.  The idea that those who feel criticised by our words can litigate us into the open is chilling at best.

“Given the context, no reasonable person could have interpreted these statements as being anything other than opinion. … The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning.”

This ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court, while limited in its scope, certainly helps set the precedent in protecting those of us who choose to publicly speak on the Internet.  It emboldens us writers to openly express our thoughts and minds while knowing that what we write is relatively protected.  Words are a very powerful tool, and today, it is truly reassuring to know that we can continue to use them as we see fit.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire

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