Online commenters can’t rely on anonymity

    A Philadelphia judge has ordered Philly.com to turn over identifying information on an anonymous commenter who is being sued for defamation.

    The individual in question impugned the character of electricians union leader John Dougherty on the website’s comment section.

    Philly.com commenters are known for being profane, prolific and extremely critical.

    And while they may think they can hide behind a pseudonym, David Greene, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said anonymity has limits.

    “A court very well may require the web host or whoever knows their true identity to reveal that information,” he noted. “That’s been the law for a while.”

    Typically, a website is supposed to let a commenter know it’s been subpoenaed for the writer’s information by, for example, sending an email to the address submitted with the comment. The commenter gets time to respond.

    In this case, the “anonymous” commenter was represented by a lawyer fighting to keep his client’s identity a secret.

    Philly.com, owned by the company that owns the Inquirer and Daily News, is not a party to the suit.

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