Model Liskula Cohen was victorious this week in her efforts to get Google to turn over the IP address and email address of an anonymous blogger who allegedly defamed her. She celebrated, according to the New York Post, by forgiving her attacker (one Rosemary Port, who was apparently retaliating against Cohen for some nasty things Cohen allegedly told Port's boyfriend), and dropping a $3 million lawsuit against her.
Perhaps Liskula Cohen was feeling generous, but do the rest of us have to worry about the "anonymous" things we post on the internet? Are you on the verge of being outed, and sued, by the next person who doesn't like what you have to say?
Probably not, as long as you don't run into anyone with really deep pockets and nothing better to do than sue you, and as long as you stick to expressing opinions.
This is one of the golden rules of defamation law: opinions are not actionable. The tort of defamation consists of harming a person's reputation, by making false statements of fact about that person. Note that key word: "fact." This means that statements of personal opinion are by and large safe from defamation claims.
In model Liskula Cohen's case, Rosemary Port's blog apparently had posts referring to Cohen as the "skankiest in NYC" and a "psychotic, lying, whoring . . . skank." Another post said that "desperation seeps from her soul, if she even has one."
Parse those nasty statements a little bit, and you can see what got Port in trouble here. "Liar" and "whore" are two words that clearly make assertions of fact about a person, and pretty negative ones at that. These are the kinds of statements that defamation suits are made of, and that undoubtedly supported the order requiring Google to out the then-anonymous author.
As for the remainder: accusations like "desperate" and "has no soul" don't exactly fall into the realm of facts you can prove or disprove. Even "skank" is a sort of vague, catch-all insult (contrast it with the unmistakable implication of the word "whore" above). They're all opinions, unkind ones for sure, but a lot harder to make a defamation claim from.
So there you have it, anonymous internet commenters: flame away if you must, but if you don't have anything nice (or true) to say, stick to your opinions. It's a lot safer for you.
- EXCLUSIVE: Model Liskula Cohen Wins Court Battle with Google to Learn Blogger's Identity (abcnews.com)
- Google reveals identity of Cohen 'skank' blogger (ZDNet Government)
- Liskula Cohen Not a Skank? Google Sued Over Anonymous Blog (FindLaw's Common Law)
- Can I Say That? Defamation Law Made Simple (FindLaw)
- Proving Libel or Slander (provided by The Umansky Law Firm)
- Personal Injury FAQ (provided by Law Offices of Howard & Reed)