A word of warning to social media trolls, use of an anonymous user/profile name may not shield you from legal action.
In a recently issued decision the Illinois Supreme Court upheld two lower courts’ decisions calling for the disclosure of the identity of a person who anonymously posted potentially defamatory statements to the comments section of an online newpaper’s article about a person running for local office.
What is significant about the decision is the court did not dwell in an unusual way on the fact that the potentially defamatory statements were made online. Rather, the court’s decision focused on routine procedural issues relating to the plaintiff’s use of Illinois Rule 224 to learn the identity of a “John Doe” in a defamation action. These were issues such as whether the statute of limitations barred the action or whether the claim was subject to a motion to dismiss.
The primary takeaway from the decision is that, at least in Illinois, online anonymous commentators can not expect any special protection in “John Doe” actions that are initiated to learn their identify when a plantiff is pursuing a viable legal claim.
The decision of the Illinois Supreme Court is hotlinked in the second paragraph above.
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