Two weeks ago, I noted the Internet has become an area where individuals with access to the Internet can effect peoples’ lives and businesses. Just about every website, blog and Internet forum provides individuals with the opportunity to comment on anything subject matter. The comments are also often made under the guise of an “anonymous” username which provides little to no personal information about the commenters. Be careful, your comments might not just be anonymous and they could cost you millions. A lesson recently learned proven in the state of Texas.
The story behind the lesson started with Mark Lesher, his wife Donna Lesher and their ranch hand being accused of sexual assault by a women. Before an indictment was issued, anonymous posters on Topix.com attacked the Leshers and their ranch hand. The comments included allegations of sexual deviant conduct and drug dealing. The Leshers and their ranch had were subsequently acquitted of all charges following a criminal trial.
Mark and Rhonda Lesher filed a defamation suit against the anonymous posters. After filing suit, the Leshers were allowed access to the IP addresses for the posters. This led to the identity of the computers used to make the comments. After a trial, the jury entered a verdict in favor of the Leshers totaling $13.78 million against six different defendants (all of whom were tied to the accuser which led to the criminal indictment).
So, think twice the next time you make a comment about anything on the internet under the guise of anonymity. Even if you think you are just providing your anonymous personal opinion about something, it just might cost you if you go to far.