Mark and Rhonda Lesher won $13.78 million in a defamation lawsuit brought against anonymous posters. The case is still in the appeal period, so stay tuned for more. Of course, if the defendants do not have the money or assets to pay the judgment, there may be no appeal, and the plaintiffs may get nothing to show for the verdict. In the meantime, the Leshers are now advocating the creation of criminal laws against anonymous posters.
Many people believe they can say what they want on the Internet as long as they use a pseudonym. After all, it is easy to set up an account using an anonymous alter ego. In addition to believing they can post whatever they want, they may also think they are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They may think freedom of speech has no limits, and when that speech — even vicious lies — is anonymously posted, that anonymity will shield them from liability.
Anonymous posters may not realize that when they sign up for an anonymous Internet user ID, they are likely agreeing to specific Terms of Service (ToS) and/or Privacy Policies that create indemnities for the Internet host as well as limit its liability. In those ToS or Privacy Policies, users may acknowledge that the Internet host may disclose their identities under a court order or in the event they violate the ToS.