This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is way too much nastiness on the Net hiding under the shield of anonymity. The Skanks in NYC blog is a good example of this, but virtually every blog with any traffic suffers from the Anonymous D------ Commenter syndrome (fill in the blanks yourself). A lot of that would go away if people had to staple their own identities to what they actually said.
Yes, free speech is a good and powerful thing. But as a wise superhero once said, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Allen Wastler, managing editor at CNBC.com, finds some hope in the "skank ruling":
...I do get a little riled when "mainstream media" — by comparison to blogs — gets tagged for not being tough or hard on certain people or subjects. Hey, I could be the roughest, toughest bully Corporate America has ever seen ... if I could be anonymous and not worry about threatening calls from lawyers.
But when you work for a newspaper, a TV network, or an established Net news site, you have to follow the journalistic rules: You back things up, with your identity and your reporting ... or you get sued.
The flip side of this: Anonymous speech that really does need to be anonymous, like blogs by political dissidents in repressive countries. The tactics used by Liskula's attorneys are not all that dissimilar to those employed by the Chinese government to force information about its political enemies out of Yahoo, Google, and others, except of course that her attorneys don't have tanks.
How far this ruling will extend is unknown at this point. But I think the lesson here is be careful whom you attack on the Net, because they might be able to find you and fight back.
One long-term impact of all this is obvious, though: The search term "skank NYC" is now permanently anchored to Liskula Cohen's name on Google. If she was trying to protect her reputation, she went about it in exactly the wrong way.
So let's whack the hornet's nest again, shall we? What's more important: privacy & anonymity or identity & responsibility? Cast your votes below or e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.