Protecting Anonymous Internet Speech

Defending individuals and businesses against commercial and governmental censorship

The Internet facilitates certain aspects of commerce, but it also gives nameless millions the ability to share their opinions with other millions instantaneously. The attorneys at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky represent the rights of individuals to express their opinions, share their ecommerce experiences, and blow the whistle on government wrongdoing without fear of interference, suppression, or retaliation.

The law is evolving

Courts nationwide have been steadily giving rise to new interpretations of how the First Amendment and other laws may be applied in anonymous Internet speech issues. The general tenor is that there is a right to anonymous speech that derives not only from the First Amendment right of free speech but other amendments suggesting a right to privacy. At SMGG, our attorneys actively track evolving free speech law as it applies to board postings, blogs, and other Web content.

Helping to define online libel

One of the bigger contributors to Pennsylvania anonymous Internet speech law was a 2011 case in which an elected city official argued that anonymous online comments defamed her and intentionally hurt her feelings. The Superior Court denied her request for the identities of some 100 anonymous detractors and established that:

  • The plaintiff should give the defendants adequate notice and opportunity to respond to the defamation allegation.
  • The plaintiff’s case must be prima facie—the plaintiff must demonstrate enough evidence to support a defamation case.
  • The plaintiff should file an affidavit affirming that the action is commenced in good faith and not to harass, that knowing detractors’ identities is fundamentally necessary to securing relief, and that the information cannot be obtained by any other means.
  • The plaintiff’s case and right to not be harmed by comments must be weighed against the defendants’ First Amendment rights.

Another contributor to the law was Joan MELVIN, Appellee v. Appellants John DOE, et al., in which SMGG attorneys succeeded in getting the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the Superior Court’s decision to uphold an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas order to reveal the identity of the anonymous creator of a Web page alleging Pittsburgh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joan Melvin of misconduct. One of the justices noted that disclosure of the commenters’ identities posed “a significant possibility of trespass upon their First Amendment rights.”

Countering censorship, suppression and retaliation

At Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, our lawyers have helped write the book on anonymous Internet speech in Pennsylvania and aggressively assert individuals’ rights to participate in electronic media responsibly. To learn more about how we can help you, please contact Ronald D. Barber at rbarber@smgglaw.com.