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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Judge orders Idaho newspaper to identify anonymous commenter



A judge in Idaho has ordered the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper to identify an anonymous reader who posted a disparaging comment about a local politician on one of the newspaper's blogs, according to the Coeur d'Alene Press. The judge's ruling limits "free speech in the online age," noted the Talking Points Memo news blog.

District Court Judge John Luster ruled that defamatory speech is not protected by the First Amendment, explained The Republic.

The Spokesman-Review newspaper fought unsuccessfully to squash a subpoena to turn over identifying information about the commenter "Almostinnocentbystander" who speculated in a comment posted on the newspaper's site whether local GOP chairwoman Tina Jacobson had stolen $10,000 missing from the Kootenai County Republican Party. The newspaper also must hand over any communication between it and the commentator, added the Boise Weekly.

In a court memorandum, the newspaper argued that readers don't really look at comments posted online as fact, explained the Los Angeles Times. The memorandum argued, “Courts have noted that there is a low barrier to speaking online and that an Internet connection allows individuals to publish their thoughts online, fulfilling a quasi-empowerment theory of unfettered communication on the Internet. With this empowerment comes freedom from editorial constraints that serve as gatekeepers for more traditional means of disseminating information, resulting in more informal and relaxed communications, bringing with it a recognition that readers give less deference to allegedly defamatory remarks published on online message boards, chat rooms and blogs than to similar remarks made in other contexts.”



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