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Anonymous Online Posting May Not Safeguard Individuals from Defamation Claims, Disclosure of Identity
Illinois
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Key point 4-02. Defamation consists of (1) oral or written statements about another person; (2) that are false; (3) that are "published" (that is, communicated to other persons); and (4) that injure the other person's reputation.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a person who allegedly was defamed by an anonymous post to an article in an online newspaper could compel the poster's Internet service provider to disclose his identity so that he could be sued. A newspaper's online edition published an article describing the decision of a local resident (the "plaintiff") to seek election to the county board of supervisors. Online readers could post comments in response to the article after completing a basic registration process. A few days later an individual using the name "Fuboy" posted a comment in which he described the plaintiff as "a Jerry Sandusky waiting to be exposed. Check out the view he has of Empire Elementary School." Fuboy also made a second comment, stating: "Anybody know the tale of [the plaintiff's] suicide attempt? It is kinda 'It's a Wonderful Life' with Pottersville winning out."

The plaintiff filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper and its parent company (the "defendants"). The plaintiff alleged that the comment made by Fuboy—that the plaintiff was a "Jerry Sandusky waiting to be exposed"—was defamatory because it imputed the commission of a crime (child molestation) to him. The newspaper provided the plaintiff with the Internet Protocol (IP) address acquired from Fuboy's Internet service provider, Comcast Cable Communications LLC (Comcast). This was the IP address from which the comments had been transmitted in response to the online newspaper article.

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