I don't always like anonymous posters, but that is the price of free speech. I agree with this court ruling protecting three anonymous posters. I also agree that anonymous defamatory postings cannot be allowed , so I think the court ruling was far.
The Internet has given rise to thousands of online chat forums, where participants can sound off on the issues of the day often shielded by the cloak of anonymity. Anonymous speech can be empowering – whistleblowers depend upon it to safeguard their identity and political participants in some countries face severe repercussions if they speak out publicly – but it also carries the danger of posts that cross the line into defamation without appropriate accountability.
Striking the balance between protecting anonymous free speech on the one hand and applying defamation laws on the other sits at the heart of a new Ontario Superior Court decision last week. The case involved postings about Phyllis Morris, the former mayor of Aurora.
In 2010, the website auroracitizen.ca featured an online chat forum where participants discussed a local election campaign. After Morris was defeated in the election, she launched a legal action against the site, the chat forum moderators, its lawyers, and website host to order them to disclose the identity of three anonymous posters. Morris did not identify the specific defamatory words, but claimed that six posts were defamatory.
The court was therefore not asked to determine whether the posts at issue were in fact defamatory. Rather, it simply faced the question of whether it should order the disclosure of personal information about the posters themselves so that Morris could proceed with a defamation lawsuit.