Everyday Ethics

lcohen_V_07jan08_splash_b.jpgLiskula Cohen, a NY model whose face has graced the cover of Vogue, among other mags, didn’t appreciate being called a “skank” – and worse – by an anonymous blogger on the website “Skanks In NYC” (since defunct). So she went to court and sued Google, which hosted the blog, to force them to reveal the identity, email, and IP address of the blogger, so she could sue them for defamation of character.

Today, she won.
Arguments will surely fly across the ‘net – our sister blog on Beliefnet, Reformed Chicks Blabbing – has already weighed in with a resounding ‘that’s it for free speech’ – but I see it as a more nuanced decision on the part of the court.
First of all, I want to know – is the blogger going to be publicly outed, or only forced to reveal his or her identity to the wounded party? This makes a big difference in how I see the ethics of the case. 
Secondly, do we not care at all for protection of people’s good names? We know cyberbullying is a very real, and a very modern menace. Should there not be some redress for people being attacked online? In my opinion, yes, though I’d say it should probably fall in the ‘start your own blog and fight back that way’ category.
My conclusion? Yes, unmasking bloggers – vicious, bitchy or otherwise – is potentially the start of the end for free-wheeling internet freedom of speech. And yeah, I don’t think that’s such a wonderful thing. No other human tool allows so many regular Joes a voice as does the world wide web, and that’s a privilege indeed. However, to me the internet is a privilege, not a right. And I don’t see why the same laws that govern slander and libel in other venues shouldn’t apply to it as well. 
If we want there to be some redress for those who are bullied by unscrupulous online attackers, we need carefully thought out laws to protect them. So, I think it seems ok to me to have the blogger’s identity revealed to Ms. Cohen and her lawyers – but not to the rest of us. We’ll see if that turns out to be the result.
What do you think? Is this court decision the beginning of the end, or justice for the oppressed?

UPDATE 8/20/09 — NY POST reports Ms. Cohen made contact with the now not-so-anonymous blogger (‘a female acquaintance’), and allegedly ‘forgives’ her — though she hasn’t yet dropped the defamation suit.

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