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back to article Defamation lawsuit seeks to unmask anonymous cowards

They should've known better than to flame law students. Two female law students at Yale University have filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Connecticut against an operator and several anonymous users of AutoAdmit.com - "the most prestigious college discussion board in the world," according to its own billing. The …

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Your Rights End When They Begin to Impede On Mine

Based on the article summary, it looks like these anonymous posters really did some damage financially to the plaintiffs (assuming what they say about the summer jobs and emotional distress is true). One has a freedom of speech, but not when it leads to libel or in some way, shape, or form tramps over someone else's rights. Now, I don't think that a suit is necessary here (everyone's solution to their problems these days is to sue, apparently), it may just do some good.

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Why visit...

a site like autoadmit.com if you're not willing to take the kind of abuse that comes with anonymous posting? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for websites that allow the pure unadulterated freedom of misery, despair and meanness that this type of forum provides. It's just when people start yelling that they got a boo-boo from their own use of the site that I have to roll my eyes.

I'll bet this though. If these broads meet with any success in this case it will spawn a whole new type of net troll. This one's looking for lawsuits though.

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Anonymous Coward

Burden

"The court also held that the storage costs associated with all the extra information wouldn't constitute a burden on TorrentSpy."

Guess that proves that most judges and lawyers don't know crap about IT. Those log files (if they keep them) for thier webserver are probably several gigs by themselves and roll over at least once a day, so providing a reliable solution to 'saving log files' for multiple servers could be between a grand per server, or for a centerlized solution 20-50+ grand depending on the type of reliability they are looking for. Not a burdent? total BS.

They should figure out a way to save the logs in some stupid format on some antiquated hardware so that nobody has the hardware to read the things like punchcards or reel-to-real tape.

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Anonymous Coward

Welcome to the world...

Wow, and these are law students... If you can't tolerate a little flaming on a public site, how are you going to make it in the 'real world' when you get out of law school? I don't advocate any kind of violence, and I think posting comments that are meant to intimidate or insult are in poor taste and immature (and usually lend validity to the argument they're meant to refute), but on the web, you get what you get. Also, don't the see the importance of this very valuable right? Not even out of law school and already trying to make life and the system worse... For Shame! I'm posting anonymously--please don't sue me...

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Anonymous Coward

Sigh

If you cannot take being flamed, do not go on the internet. This is our world. If you do not like it, leave.

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Anonymous Coward

Where there's ability to defame, there's a need to identify

Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, its surely self-evident that if a site provides the ability to defame, then the site also needs firstly the ability to remove the defamation on request and secondly the ability to disclose the identity of the defamer.

In cases like this, we often spend too much time trying to work out what the law actually says, and not enough time trying to rewrite the law so that its meaning is clearer.

The law should not be unclear, nor should it continue to be written by people who have a vested interest in writing the law in an unclear manner because by doing so it keeps the perpetrators of these unclear laws in business.

Its high time for a new law -- one which requires all future laws to be written in plain language and which requires governments to provide on request a plain language replacement for any law whose meaning isn't fully clear to the average member of the public.

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Anonymous Coward

options ?

Well I suppose if the plaintiffs had any connections to the UK they could always try suing for libel in the uk if it damaged their reputation here. They could then sue the website operator, as well as the actual posters if they can identify them.

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Link would be nice

A link would be nice, so we can see the comments made, if it was not removed...

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Anonymous Coward

This thread?

Looks like this thread:

http://stupid-bitch-to-attend-yale-law.autoadmit.com/thread.php?thread_id=197266&mc=126&forum_id=2

It's clear from the thread, that she takes offence when they complain she only has only a 159 and shouldn't be in yale. One guy complains she defines 'success' as being in the bottom 10% of yale students, she (if she is britt) calls him a moron and says yale doesn't rank its students.

The sexual threats & std claims are to give the lawsuit some 'victim status boost', the boost you can get if you can play up your victim status. Here's the std comment:

"Author: britt

Someone sent me an IM with a link to this thread.

Author: D:

what stds do you have"

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Anonymous Coward

Taking responsibility

It is astonishing that the owners of this site seem to think they have no reponsibility for what appears on it (and that US law apparently agrees with them). Threatening rape is shocking behaviour, and is surely against the law in any jurisdiction.

I moderate guestbooks for two sports clubs (with mainly teenage boys as members) and I have always considered it my responsibility to make sure nothing inappropriate appears on the site (or if it does slip through, to remove it ASAP).

What are these guys thinking of?

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Anonymous Coward

But was the 'moron' defamed?

"Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, its surely self-evident that if a site provides the ability to defame, then the site also needs firstly the ability to remove the defamation on request and secondly the ability to disclose the identity of the defamer."

By 'Self evident' do you mean, 'against all basic principles of presumption of innocence'? Why should track people just in case they might in future defame someone?

Also was she defamed? Can you show me the exact comment where she was defamed? I read the comments, but she doesn't dispute the key point, that she has only a 159 and that is very low for being accepted at yale, i.e. an indication of stupidity. I couldn't find the comment saying she had sex with the dean of admissions at all, can you point me to it?

Anon: "Threatening rape is shocking behaviour, and is surely against the law in any jurisdiction."

Shocking? The comment is:

"Author: neoprag

i'll force myself on her, most definitely. can't wait to meet the young lady."

I don't see how that comment could be claimed to have caused her financial loss. More a case of decorating a piss poor lawsuit with a bit of 'I'm a victim'.

William: "Based on the article summary, it looks like these anonymous posters really did some damage financially to the plaintiffs"

She *claims* to have suffered financially, but then plaintiffs always do. Doesn't mean she has a case.

Read the thread. I'm scratching my head what the hell her problem is. If she's 'Britt' from the thread, she calls people 'morons' for example, but can't take it when they call her 'stupid bitch'. Would they prefer it if they called her a moron? Or is she claiming 'Britt' isn't her?

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Anonymous Coward

"First we must kill all the lawyers"

The "Does" are suing anonymously! Judging by this they are also anonymous on the autoadmit.com website as well. If they are anonymous and the "defaming" posts are anonymous, how can they claim that they are being defamed if no one seems to know what their identities are?

There is also the right of the accused to face their accuser, will the "Does" identities be revealed in court?

To paraphrase a previous poster: if their skin is this thin now, how will they ever go to trial where an experienced attorney will do everything to upset the opposing attorney???

Shakespear was correct: "...first we must kill all the lawyers..."

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Silver badge

Difficult times

These are just kids. Many people mature later than was common in the past. The fact that they managed to get all the way to law school without growing up is just a sign of the times. However, a legal system that allows students to sue each other for school yard insults is downright pathetic and hints at serious problems with society. It's no wonder these kids are having trouble finding their way.

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Anonymous Coward

scam

sounds like a 'typical' lawyer scam for money.

Personally I hope the site wins. Remember when you sign up to the TOS on a site you really should read them. If written appropriately the site admins/owners could just refer to the TOS and the 'Does' would lose as they 'agreed' to them by signing up.

If the does are worried about being defamed, surely they must have had revealing info posted, if that is so, then as stated one of those running the sites would remove it, but that they refused and I agree that they are now out for vengence (and money).

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RE: Where there's ability to defame, there's a need to identify

<quote>"In cases like this, we often spend too much time trying to work out what the law actually says, and not enough time trying to rewrite the law so that its meaning is clearer.

The law should not be unclear, nor should it continue to be written by people who have a vested interest in writing the law in an unclear manner because by doing so it keeps the perpetrators of these unclear laws in business.

Its high time for a new law -- one which requires all future laws to be written in plain language and which requires governments to provide on request a plain language replacement for any law whose meaning isn't fully clear to the average member of the public."</quote>

Agreed then we wouldn't need lawyers or have a billion frivelous lawsuits from lawyers who exploit loopholes in the law suing companys left and right takeing up valuable court time from real cases.

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Like the article says

Log it from RAM and bill it to legal.

If you want to play a game of threatening to rape someone then when you next come back, "no logging" will have been changed to logging everything possible. SO the next comment you make won;t be quite as anon as you thought, and you won;t even know about it.

Simple case of doing what you can post instead of pre.

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Oh well,

Oh well , since 2.3% of the annual US GDP , is accounted for by law suits , then one doesn't have to wonder about some silly twat trying to take an anonymous slice, whilst simultaneously boosting ones academic grades in a questionable manner using very questionable means!

The old story he says , she says , and everything else is implied in between! , so to take this law suit at face value without a thorough investigation of the anonymous originators motives , speculation rules supreme!

The "Peter Principle" rocks on in the new century unabated !

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How do you libel a jane doe?

The article admits that nobody ever actually gave away identifying information about the plaintiffs. So how exactly did they suffer libel, if nobody outside of the sites knew who the target of the derision was? The anonymity of the site provides protection from being libeled as long as the EULA of the site is enforced.

The financial damage claim is even more pathetic, unless somebody who actually knew enough about the person to affect the finances saw the comments. Once again, the anonymous nature of the site protects against this.

Emotional damages area different case, the plaintiff's had no need to be on the site, but at least one of the comments (the rape one), would be very very legitimate in the physical world. This gets into sketchy legal stuff, which I'll avoid giving an opinion on, since I have no clue at all.

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Anonymous Coward

Welcome...

...to the wonderful world of web 2.0!!

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How do you libel a jane doe? - Cont

"In addition, Doe I claims that the postings on the site caused her to miss out on summer jobs with law firms, since several of the postings appear in the top results for a Google search for her name, and she suggests that the firms saw these results and passed her over for the positions."

Surely she must NOT have remained anonymous on AutoAdmit for this to happen, or somebody else posted on other sites with links to AutoAdmit containing her name. Even if the law firm did refuse her a job because they though she had STDs or whatever else this thread claimed, surely she would have a case against them for discrimination?

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Gav
Bronze badge

Do the people responding here actually read the article?

I don't see any mention anywhere of the the principle victim signing up to any agreement with the message board prior to the pile-on starting. The only mistake she made was to attempt to get involve and argue with internet trolls, which is always an exercise in futility.

I can imagine that having lies told about you, plus threats of rape (no matter how much of a joke it's supposed to be), in a public place (if you can google it then it's public) is very distressing. Particularly when it's by anonymous people you could be dealing with every day in real life.

That the administrators refused to do anything about it, even retrospectively, makes them as liable as the anonymous cowards as far as I'm concerned. No doubt that the whole U.S. legal process will go through the usual extremes, but I'd say they're getting what they deserve. If you allow your message board posters to behave like irresponsible jerks without any real life consequences then that's the risk you run.

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Actually..

> The article admits that nobody ever actually gave away identifying information about the plaintiffs.

Untrue. The thread in question (linked in a previous comment) gives away real names in the very first post. Later, there are statements of intent ("I'll sodomize her repeatedly...") but nothing that indicates conspiracy or actual planning to commit an offence, or indeed defamation - at no point does anyone claim that either plaintiff has an STD; questions are asked regarding "what STDs" they have, which is a different thing.

Filing anonymous suit is pretty stupid when the names are right there, though. I doubt this suit will succeed unless the judge is the more extreme type of neoLuddite godbotherer.

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Anonymous Coward

I can't comment on the legality, but the underlying problem is clear

Net usage appears almost entirely male, despite the fact that there has been a growing number of female users for years too. The reason so many women opt to lurk on messageboards, or use handles that express no trace of gender is the negative attention received. Studies have shown that female users are more likely to get unwanted positive and negative attention on the web, and criticism is far fiercer and sexually specific.

The problem is that web-users are divorced from real-wrold social constraints, and express things that, aside from being inappropriate, are considered far less before being published. Things are said that wouldn't (and in this case, very obviously *shouldn't) be said in the real world.

As long as this behaviour goes on, the web (on average) will always be limited in scope. I exclude the Reg for the most part, despite the tech angle, posters regardless of views tend to be relatively articulate. But I'm sure you've all seen examples of what I mean?

NOTE: I don't intend to advocate delimiting freedoms of speech as such, nor do I thgink some sort of "netiquette" (appalling word) would be implementable. But some small consideration goes a long way in making a site accessible to all.

And to the posters who follow the line of "If you cannot take being flamed, do not go on the internet. This is our world. If you do not like it, leave." (see very first, unsurprisingly anonymous comment), can you REALLY morally justify any threathenign of rape? It's not just discriminatory, it's a horrible thing to say, and very intimidating. Law aside, would this guy have said something so horrible in the real world? No. Then why be such a prick online, other than to show the world (anonymously) that he really is a prick...

MikeC

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Anonymous Coward

Killing Lawyers

I am not sure how the above death threat "First we must kill all the lawyers" should be treated. That could be one expensive post if all lawyers were to start claiming loss of earnings or some such...

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Anonymous Coward

Fried egg lawsuits

Rich: "Later, there are statements of intent ("I'll sodomize her repeatedly...") "

Intent? It's clearly a contrast joke:

Mr Nice: "I will befriend her..."

Mr Nasty: "I will sodomize her..."

Crude, but do a search on that guys name and this is his online persona.

Gav: "I can imagine that having lies told about you, plus threats of rape (no matter how much of a joke it's supposed to be), in a public place (if you can google it then it's public) is very distressing."

So distressing in fact that a comment made in 2005, she doesn't act on until 2007?....and then only an aside to the 'they called my stupid' lawsuit?

I call them 'fried egg' lawsuits. When a plaintiff doesn't think their case stands up, they play up the 'I'm a victim' message. Since judges and juries don't want to treat 'victims' badly, it gives them a special boost. As soon as I see that, I note the case is weak and the plaintiff knows it. Just like a bad chef will put a fried egg on top of a meal he knows is poor.

"The only mistake she made was to attempt to get involve and argue with internet trolls, which is always an exercise in futility."

She's supposed to be a lawyer. Yet she couldn't argue her side?

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Anonymous Coward

Quote " How do you libel a jane doe?" THE ANSWER

Someone on this comment thread asks "How do you libel a jane doe?". Believe me it is very possible to libel someone called themselves "jane doe" . If that person,jane doe, can be identified somehow (and clearly that has happened) then that is libel whether you called them "jane doe" or "their real name" . How do I know ?. Well I actually had a judgment against me for saying something about "mickey mouse" simply because, and this is the High Court, if someone got an order forcing ISP to release the name behind IP address then "mickey mouse" would be identified. THAT is how "F ing" stupid the Court system is !!

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reThink newThink

Where there's ability to defame, there's a need to identify

Posted Sunday 24th June 2007 10:38 GMT

Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, its surely self-evident that if a site provides the ability to defame, then the site also needs firstly the ability to remove the defamation on request and secondly the ability to disclose the identity of the defamer.

This is the slippery slope.

As soon as someone finds something, anything offensive you have to apply this censorship. Eventually you can't say anything as anything you say might be considered offensive to someone.

In cases like this, we often spend too much time trying to work out what the law actually says, and not enough time trying to rewrite the law so that its meaning is clearer.

The law should not be unclear, nor should it continue to be written by people who have a vested interest in writing the law in an unclear manner because by doing so it keeps the perpetrators of these unclear laws in business.

Its high time for a new law -- one which requires all future laws to be written in plain language and which requires governments to provide on request a plain language replacement for any law whose meaning isn't fully clear to the average member of the public.

This is why we have lawyers.

Because we have lawyers we have laws that need a lawyer to wiggle through them.

No one is stopping anyone from rendering their own defense but as the man said representing yourself in court is like performing brain surgury on yourself.

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Reading is good for you

Nobody here actually read any of the comments.

Her name was used many times specifically, her photo was posted, there were many many posts throwing around accusations of STDs, there were several suggestions of rape.

It's very, very clearly a lot of harassment and slander. There's no arguing it, and if you're going to go around making such a big deal about free speech, at least have the nuts to not hide behind your pussy-bitch keyboard.

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Anonymous Coward

Trolls seeking to provoke litigation

Will Leamon:

"I'll bet this though. If these broads meet with any success in this case it will spawn a whole new type of net troll. This one's looking for lawsuits though."

It's been done:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Godfrey_(physics_lecturer)

That article doesn't include any of the myriad of threats which never culminated in court cases, either, but which cost people their jobs, donations to charity, etc...

Some people see the internet as something akin to having chats at the pub.

*Others* (including much of the law) see it as being covered by the same libel and/ordefamation laws that cover formal publishing activities.

Anything which causes work for lawyers can probably be described as being dysfunctional, and the two viewpoints I described above are so divergent as to match this description.

Laws need to be enacted to protect the informal nature of internet discussions as well as to educate people that these informal discussions are indeed very informal and not grist for the legal vultures...

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I don't condone the web turning into a litigious playground

but be warned - what you say to your mates in the pub runs only two risks - someone overhearing and taking offense, or being repeated to the wrong person by one of your mates.

In either case, it can be claimed easily that it was misunderstood, misheard, or remembered. It's not like there's a stenographer.

The web, by contrast, is putting your words beyond your reach - always accessible, misconstueable, and utterly beyond your control if there's no Edit feature! Even then, cached versions or the backups of the website contain old content.

Everybody makes the occasional joke that's offcolour, without intent to harm or offend. Just remember that it's different when it's in print. And for the record, I think the posters on the thread in this article went way beyond this, a level of offense that is scary. Whatever their intent, she was defamed and threathened, and now that's recorded in print.

Common sense dictates that you stop and think before you hit Post Comment. Speaking of which...

MikeC

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Anonymous Coward

moral

the moral of this story is this: Don't write anyone online unless you have the ability/authority/control etc to enable privacy settings and even then, you probably shouldn't.

As for the comments on the thread itself, no I haven't read it, I don't intend to. Almost every site/message board etc always has a EULA/TOS of some sort that everyone has to click 'I Agree' to before continuing, as such breach of said EULA/TOS or policies contained within usually has a documented process for action and is often covered within or refers to local regional laws.

I was going by the story, just voicing my opinion based upon the material without going into the source material, yes I should have read it, but honestly I'm not interested in reading a flame war, the insults etc.

Its in the hands of legal now, whoever can grease their lawyer/the judge with the most money will probably win regardless of what we think.

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