Whether it’s a planned attack by an ex-employee or a spontaneous outburst by a personal enemy, anonymous online defamation may cause significant reputational and financial damages.
So, how can you possibly recover your reputation after becoming the victim of anonymous internet defamation?
What you can do
When you file a lawsuit against an anonymous defendant, criminal attorneys refer to this as a “John Doe” Case or an unknown defendant lawsuit.
These cases are often filed when a plaintiff is legally “wronged” in some manner by an anonymous social media account, website, or blog.
Fortunately, you can resolve this issue by following these procedures:
Step 1: Hire a lawyer
An expert online defamation lawyer will know how to create a valid Jane Doe or John Doe case that conforms with the appropriate jurisdiction’s local norms.
You must present the claims in the complaint thoroughly and correctly, and it must include links to the information.
Even if you don’t yet know who the defendant is, it’s preferable to file your claim immediately since the statute of limitations may expire.
Plus, vital evidence may be removed or wiped from internet servers.
Step 2: Do a balancing test
Following that, your attorney will do a balancing test to see if you can identify this user by any other means. It also determines whether other circumstances weigh in favor of protecting the writer’s anonymity under the First Amendment.
Essentially, you’re making sure there’s no cause for a court to deny you the subpoena.
Step 3: Request and issue a subpoena
Submit the subpoena to the libelous material’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) and host site. Many websites are registered using “Domains by Proxy” or GoDaddy service.
Domains By Proxy hides the owner of a website. Since GoDaddy’s headquarters is in Arizona, your lawyer must follow the proceedings in Mobilisa V. Doe.
The subpoena must seek all essential information to help identify the unnamed defendant.
A subpoena shouldn’t request too much information. Here are some data examples to collect via an internet platform:
- Operating system
- Web browser
- Google Analytics reports
- Email addresses
- Service provider
- Time on site
- IP addresses
- Times connected
This is required if you want to subpoena the user in the future. Also, if the user receives your message and decides to delete it for fear of being sued, this step may save you from filing a lawsuit.
Step 4: Ensure your claim’s legal grounds.
Next, evaluate the facts by undertaking a “hypothetical summary judgment” test to verify that you’ll be able to withstand a summary judgment motion.
This is a legal technicality that differs by jurisdiction. This implies you must provide evidence that you have legally legitimate claims to uncover the name of the anonymous author.
Check whether the item in issue would be judged defamatory by the jury and a judge, rather than being defensible speech on its face.
For example, an opinion wouldn’t be an actionable statement.
Step 5: Collect pieces of evidence
Even though libel and defamation cases may include “presumed” damages, several jurisdictions advise jurors that the amount is entirely up to them, and they may determine that $1 is sufficient.
As a result, even if the posts represent blatant libel or even libel per se, you must be prepared to establish damages and causation.
As a result, it’s vital for plaintiffs in defamation actions to employ skilled counsel who can put together supporting evidence and package allegations accordingly to meet this standard.
Defamation law is famously complicated, and it’s often unwise to retain non-specialist counsel.
Also, keep in mind that defamation spreads quickly, and damages may promptly escalate, so it’s essential to deal with it immediately.
As a result, your best choice is to employ an expert attorney to help you restore your public image.