Someone posts a fake profile of you on MySpace casting aspersion on your character. You may be justifiably angry, but unless you are willing to specify the defamations and provide proof they are untrue, don't expect to be able to unmask the profile author.
On Friday, Cicero, Ill., Town President Larry Dominick dropped his request for a court to force MySpace to identify the creator of several spoof profiles in his name that he claimed were defamatory. His petition filed last month (PDF) did not provided details about the profiles and exactly what was defamatory. The pages were removed after Dominick complained.
The profiles had photos and "questionable comments about his sexuality and ethics," according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a friend of the court brief last week arguing that fulfilling the request would violate the author's First Amendment right to remain anonymous unless Dominick could demonstrate a viable legal claim. The EFF also argued that the federal Stored Communications Act, which prohibits government entities--including Dominick acting in his official capacity as Cicero town president--from obtaining identifying customer information through the ordinary civil discovery process.
EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman says the organization doesn't oppose all claims of Internet defamation, only those that fail to provide details about the alleged defamation and proof that the statements aren't true, as well as those that don't provide notification to the person whose identity is being sought.
"It's far too easy for someone to go into court and simply ask a third party like MySpace or Facebook to turn this information over if there is no attempt to notify the person whose rights would be affected," he told CNET News.com.
The concern is that without First Amendment safeguards for anonymity people will use the courts merely to find the identity of people whose opinion or actions they disagree with and use that information to chill criticism.
Most of the time, the cases arise from postings made on blogs. But social network pages are increasingly being used for anonymous self expression.
For instance, a judge in Indiana ordered Facebook to name the person who created a fake profile for a high school dean last month.