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Anonymous blogger – reveal thyself!

blank-avatarIn a recent decision from the Ontario courts, a judge has ordered an anonymous blogger to reveal his or her identity to the plaintiff, so the plaintiff can sue them for defamation. There is only one catch: how does one go about enforcing such order?

In Manson v. Doe, Mr. Manson, a lawyer, commenced legal action against anonymous online bloggers, alleging that they had defamed him. Manson brought applications to the court for orders against various website operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), seeking information necessary to track down the bloggers. Although Manson was successful in obtaining the orders against the ISPs, he hit a snag when the information provided by the ISPs did not reveal the identity of “John Doe 1”.

Mr. Manson then brought an application to the court, seeking that it order “John Doe 1” to reveal his or her identity and that “John Doe 1” remove the defamatory blogs from the web. Not surprisingly, “John Doe 1” did not appear in court to oppose this application.

Mr. Manson succeeded in his application, and “John Doe 1” was ordered to reveal his or her identity and to remove the offending blogs. Good news for Mr. Manson, bad news for “John Doe 1”, right? Not necessarily.

Imagine you are “John Doe 1”. Would you reveal your identity to comply with the order? Sure, penalties for not complying may include contempt of court, or even imprisonment, but how would anyone locate you? Therein lies the irony of this order: it is an order to reveal an identity of an alleged wrongdoer, but one would need to know the identity of the wrongdoer to enforce the order.

This case illustrates the difficulties faced by plaintiffs in online defamation cases. They may have legal remedies available to them, but those remedies may not necessarily be practical solutions to the defamation.

Maanit Zemel
Miller Thomson LLP

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Maanit Zemel

Internet and Social Media lawyer, commercial litigator at MTZ Law
Maanit Zemel is a commercial litigator admitted to practice in Ontario and New York, with substantial experience and expertise in Internet and social media law, including Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), privacy, online defamation, cyberbullying and cyber-security. Read more.
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