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Texas Judge Orders Identification of Topix Trolls 344

Posted by timothy
from the who-the-hell-are-y'all? dept.
eldavojohn writes "Ars Technica has a story on a Texas judge who has ordered Topix.com to hand over the identifying details of 178 trolls that allegedly made 'perverted, sick, vile, inhumane accusations' about Mark & Rhonda Lesher. Mark Lesher was accused of sexually assaulting an unidentified former client (and subsequently found not guilty) which prompted the not so understanding discussions on Topix. Topix has until March 6 to give up the information. Let's hope the Leshers don't visit Slashdot!"
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Texas Judge Orders Identification of Topix Trolls

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  • What happens if... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The MAZZTer (911996) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (tzzagem)> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:37PM (#26817341) Homepage
    ...they never logged identifying details?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      ... the users posting these comments gave fake information when creating an e-mail address to register at Topix and posted from an anonymous location such as an internet cafe?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        ... the users posting these comments gave their neighbor's information when creating an e-mail address to register at Topix and posted from their neighbor's insecure wifi?

  • by saskboy (600063) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:37PM (#26817345) Homepage Journal

    Odds are good that the company will turn over the records, and nothing will come of it after that. Can you imagine them going after 170 people at once? I can't, unless they are the RIAA.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:38PM (#26817361) Homepage

    Seems like they're following the correct procedure here. They've identified specific posts, shown them to a judge, had the judge determine that they have a cause of action based on those specific posts, and now are proceeding to ask for the identities of the people who made those posts so they can proceed with legal action. That's in contrast to other cases where the demand is a blanket demand not based on showing that specific posts are actionable.

    The right to state your views anonymously does not extend to being a shield against liability if your statements are found to be actionable.

    • by garcia (6573) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:51PM (#26817599) Homepage

      The right to state your views anonymously does not extend to being a shield against liability if your statements are found to be actionable.

      Personally I don't even remember if I had heard that this couple had been accused of anything. Now I will forever remember them as the couple who gave a flying fucking rats ass what was said about them on the second most pointless forum on the Internet, Topix.

      Seriously, grow the fuck up morons. No one with 1/16th of a brain gives a shit what any Internet troll has to say and no one, and I mean no one, pays any fucking attention to Topix what-so-ever. There really has to be a better way for this couple to waste their money, right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      What qualifies as an "actionable" post? If I say "I think you are an asshole!", is that actionable? How about if I make the ridiculous claim that "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!"?

      I complained to my daughter's principle that my daughter's teacher was a racist and wasn't doing her job -- and promptly received a "Cease and Desist" order from the teacher's lawyer accusing my of "Interfering with [the teacher's] business relationships" and "defamation"! Let's face it -- ANY comment made online could be c

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by zachdms (265636)

        I still believe my right to free speech extends to offensive speech

        The key words are "I" and "believe". That's just not how things work in the real world (libel, slander, etc).
        Note that the Internet generally has intersected with the real world very loosely, which is part of many problems.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DrLang21 (900992)
          Not to mention that "offensive speech" is not synonymous with libel and slander.
        • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:35PM (#26818307) Journal

          "I believe" is exactly the root of the issue. You are free to state your opinions up until the point where it might be actionable under hate speech laws, and need have no fear of reprisal. Saying, "I think this guy is a total piece of shit and I hope he dies" is fine, because you can stand up in court and say, "I'm anonymous coward, and I support this message."

          Saying, on the other hand, "This person is guilty of x crime" when that person has been proven innocent in a court of law...That's a falsehood, and actionable.

          • by inviolet (797804)

            "I believe" is exactly the root of the issue. You are free to state your opinions up until the point where it might be actionable under hate speech laws, and need have no fear of reprisal. Saying, "I think this guy is a total piece of shit and I hope he dies" is fine, because you can stand up in court and say, "I'm anonymous coward, and I support this message."

            Saying, on the other hand, "This person is guilty of x crime" when that person has been proven innocent in a court of law...That's a falsehood, and a

      • by DrLang21 (900992) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:58PM (#26817721)
        IANAL. "I think you are an asshole!" is not actionable as it clearly states an opinion. "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" is actionable (unless you can show it to be true!) as you make a clear statement of fact. IANAL.
        • IANAL. "I think you are an asshole!" is not actionable as it clearly states an opinion. "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" is actionable (unless you can show it to be true!) as you make a clear statement of fact. IANAL.

          Having had a similar discussion with someone in the past I'll share what I learned with you. On the topic of the second statement it's still actionable in some parts of the world (the UK notably) where truth is not considered a defense to libel. IANAL yada yada yada.

        • by redxxx (1194349) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:31PM (#26818249)

          In the United States obvious satire is not actionable. Basically, a reader of normal intelligence would have to expect to believe it, while the person posting it does not have a good faith belief that it is true(which is also required in the US for libel).

          So, if I made the statement "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" it would be actionable, because to someone who is farmilar with Todd Knarr it would be believable that he had sex with 'farm' animals, but I don't have a good faith belief that the animals he has sex with were raised on farms.

      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        What qualifies as actionable? What the judge says is actionable. Note that that doesn't neccesarily mean it'll be found to be libelous in the end, but it's been shown to an independent judge and he's found it's sufficient in itself to provide grounds to go forward.

        Your own examples show the point. In none of your cases were the actual statements put before a judge to rule on whether they're actionable or not. In all of them, only the complaintant (the teacher, or you) is making a claim and no judge has rule

      • How about if I make the ridiculous claim that "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!"?

        From here [criminal-l...source.com]:
        A number of Supreme Court decisions have made a plaintiff's defamation case more difficult to win. A defamation case can be dismissed if the statements that were made were opinions rather than fact; were true, or are considered "fair comment and criticism." Defamation must also be believable in order to be considered damaging to a person's reputation. In many defamation cases the plaintiff must prove that the def

        • by Locke2005 (849178)
          For the record, I don't consider the claim that "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!" to be defamatory. I don't know Todd, but I'm fairly certain reasonable people would NOT find the statement believable. I will stipulate that I did deliberately make a statement that I knew to be false and offensive, on the basis that no sane person would believe it to be true. Likewise, I don't know and I don't want to know what these trolls said, but I'm still pretty sure that no sane person would take their accusations
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Libel is fairly well deliniated. [law.com]
        I don't particularly like the idea of pursuing anonymous posts as libelous, but your post is just ignorant.
        • by Dog-Cow (21281)

          So you think no one should be responsible for what they say or do, so long as they are anonymous?

          Your belief is a huge part of what is wrong with society.

      • by cdrguru (88047)

        Sex with farm animals? Oh, you mean like the the Mesa deputy fire chief case a while back. Anyone that thinks this is not "believable" is missing a huge chunk of current events. Of course it is believable!

      • by ameyer17 (935373)

        DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer.
        For what it's worth, I seem to recall reading that opinions cannot be slander/libel.
        "I think you have sex with farm animals" would be seen as a "fact" and potentially be slander/libel.
        "I think you're an asshole" or "You're an asshole" would be seen as an opinion and not be slander/libel.
        Unless a judge decided to interpret that as me saying that someone literally is an anus.

      • by CFTM (513264)

        Well, next time file similar action on behalf of your daughter in the courts against the teacher. As our society has become more and more litigious, it seems to be the first person to "draw blood" in the court room is at a legal advantage.

        Lame, lame, lame...

      • by macraig (621737)

        Your first example is not actionable, simply because it's not an objective statement; it makes no specific objective claim or accusation about a person. Your second example, however, is quite specific and objective, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if a judge declared it actionable.

        I have long thought it stupid that anyone thinks they should have an absolute right to complete anonymity, whether it's online or anywhere else. You'd better be prepared to own what you say, especially if you're screaming it

      • What qualifies as an "actionable" post? If I say "I think you are an asshole!", is that actionable? How about if I make the ridiculous claim that "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals!"?

        ....
        I complained to my daughter's principle that my daughter's teacher was a racist and wasn't doing her job --

        Actually, there are answers to these questions. Yes, I am a Lawyer. "I think you are an asshole" is an obvious opinion and not a statement of fact. Not actionable. "Todd Knarr has sex with farm animals." Actionable if it might be believed and not of obvious ridiculousness based on the facts and circumstances. Possibly actionable. Note if we change "farm animals" to "Martians", it would not be actionable. "Teacher is a racist and not doing her job" -- actionable if untrue since it disparages her in h

    • by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:53PM (#26817635) Homepage

      Having perused the Topix forum for my local community, I'm honestly not surprised.

      Literally half of the posts there are personal attacks, bigoted remarks, or slander of some kind.

      My first time reading \b was less harmful to my outlook on humanity...

    • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:57PM (#26817697)

      Topix is registered in Washington and hosted in California. What happens if they refuse? Is the judge going to 'ban' them from Texas? What if the posters are in Indiana or Europe?

      How do they plan on identifying people that are more than likely pseudonyms? Most forums I'm on I have a random name generator give me a name and it goes to a generic gmail account.

    • Man, I hope the My Little Pony forum troll [slashdot.org] is safe ... some of his materials seems pretty actionable [flickr.com].
    • by gknoy (899301)

      The right to state your views anonymously does not extend to being a shield against liability if your statements are found to be actionable.

      If the site keeps no information from anonymous posters (and I think /. doesn't keep info on ACs, though I could be wrong), what can you do? Without timestamps and an IP address (or some other identifiers), I don't think you can do much more than drop the case (which sucks for those being libeled or otherwise trolled), or get mad at the site for allowing anonymous cont

  • if people began to believe that not anything goes on an Internet discussion board.
    • by scubamage (727538)
      Yeah, damn that free speech thing. It goes too far. We should have to have all communications monitored at all times.
      • by Dunbal (464142)

        We should have to have all communications monitored at all times.

              You already do? Oh wait I wasn't supposed to say- [gunshot]

  • The future of libel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FiveDozenWhales (1360717) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:54PM (#26817669)
    It seems like this kind of legal issue is popping up in the news more and more. With the increased media coverage of *channers trolling people, the "cyberbullying" scares of the past 10 years or so, and things like the Megan Meier case, libel and other forms of online harassment are becoming more of an issue.

    Maybe it's just me, but I see parallels between this issue and that of copyright. Both are laws designed long ago, before the semi-anonymous mass-communication that is the internet, and both are facing the fact that this new technology challenges the very foundation of these laws.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dunbal (464142)

      There's no law against being an ass hole, and there never should be. Period. As Rowan Atkinson once said - the right to offend is far more important than the right to be offended. Anyone who takes what they read online so seriously that they become offended don't deserve to have a modem. Anyone who tries to start legal action based on said offense deserves to be shot. Who cares what a bunch of trolls said on some site or other. Turn the machine off and walk away.

      It's not the same if

      • by 2short (466733)
        "... this should be laughed at and we should move on."

        Would you feel the same if a Google search for you turned up nothing but pages of people discussing how you were obviously guilty of kidnapping and rape, and it's too bad you got off on a technicality? I don't claim to know the answer, but I can see why this guy isn't laughing.
      • by Dog-Cow (21281) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:02PM (#26818775)

        There's a difference between offensive and libelous speech. I agree that there should not be any particular legal consequences for offensive speech, but I disagree that libel should be treated the same. Part of the legal definition or condition for libel is that harm is caused and that such harm is demonstrated to the Court.

        Again, punishment is for the harm, not the speech.

  • I set up accounts like /. and the like by validating through email accounts in foreign countries that were themselves set up through email accounts in different foreign countries. Of course it's hard to remember to IP spoof every time I post. It's easier just to not be a troll.
  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:19PM (#26818047)
    ...we're going to have to take back everything we've said about CowboyNeal?
  • by Fooby (10436) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:35PM (#26818319)

    Free speech doesn't give unlimited protection to libel.

    Ars Technica (TFA) claims that the judge's order ignores previous rulings, yet the ones it cites are not on point. They involve politicians and business executives.

    These involve purported libel of private figures acquitted of a crime.

  • most trolls use free web mail accounts and use Tor or some other proxy server to hide their IP.

    You'll most likely get a list of Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, and GMail accounts and fake names like John Smith and Jane Doe going to proxy server IPs.

    If any of those Topix Trolls had any sense, they'd quit trolling and give up their accounts that got them into trouble and generate a new account to avoid being caught, which I suspect they will. Then change the email address of the Topix account they trolled with to biteme

  • Before now, I'd never heard of Mark or Rhonda Lesher. Now that they're suing, the name "Lesher" and the words "sexual assault" are going to be linked together forever in my mind. And of course, my little squishy blob of memory is nothing next to the Mighty Google.
  • by mcgrew (92797) *

    Anonymous Coward and Cowboy Niel are sweating bullets!

  • No trolls! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hordeking (1237940) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @05:26PM (#26819197)
    I find it ironic that none of the responses to this article, as of 3:25pm on Feb 11, 2009 have been marked as trolls. Nay, even the usual troll posts haven't shown up yet...a first in /. history! I shall mark this day on my calendar.
  • Texas Libel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @10:57PM (#26822705)
    So Texas libel laws were possibly violated. But what if the person typing into the blog lives in and typed the words in question in from another state where it isn't libel and online anonymous speech is protected? That's the first question I'd like answered.

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