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Philadelphia Judge Issues Ruling That Could Give Anonymous Online Commenters Second Thoughts

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file photo (credit GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

file photo (credit GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia judge has ordered philly.com to reveal the name of an anonymous commenter, in a defamation suit brought by electricians’ union leader John Dougherty.

An attorney in the case says it could have a broad impact on incendiary online comments and those users, sometimes called “trolls,” who post them anonymously.

The anonymous defendant in the suit, disguised by the nonsense name “fbpdplt,” called Dougherty a name in the comments section of an article on the website, one of the properties in the media group that also owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

The website is not a party to the suit but it received a subpoena, more than a year ago, for information on the commenter. Its attorney, Eli Segal, says, “the company went to Court to make sure that the defendant received notice and an opportunity to be heard.”

The commenter remained anonymous but was represented in court by Phil Blackman, who argued that identifying his client would violate his, or her, First Ammendment right to speak anonymously.

Dougherty’s attorney, Joe Podraza, argued the comment was defamation, not protected by either the federal or state constitution.

Common Please Judge Jacqueline Allen ruled in Dougherty’s favor, in a decision that Podraza says “has been a long time coming.”

“I think the court is sending a strong message to those who abuse the internet by defaming others and think they can get away with it by acting anonymously,” he told KYWnewsradio.

“The court is strongly saying that anonymity does not mean immunity under defamation law.”

Podraza says the ruling should provide protection from defamation for all citizens.

“Hopefully, it will send a strong message to people to be more responsible when they’re posting comments, particularly when they’re attempting to do so in an anonymous capacity.”

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