From some awfully nasty little responses to Lindsay Lohan rumours at PerezHilton.com, to bitchy or accusational comments on blogs and online forums, the internet thrives on anonymity. But what are the actual chances of a comment you made anonymously coming back to haunt you?
"Comments made to a mailing list in the past can emerge via search engines years later," explains Isaac Forman, creator of Confessions.com.au, a website that slows users to reveal their innermost thoughts and dreams under the veil of anonymity. How you can be pinpointed online…
"People using the web can be tracked by their IP address – or ‘internet protocol’ address, which is often shared by multiple people at a house, workplace or university – and their ‘user agent string’ (text that identifies the version of their browser and plug-ins they have installed). So if anything legally questionable is posted, like defamatory comments, and is required by police or the courts, the IP address and internet service provider (ISP) logs come into play."
An IP address is a numeric code. Blog and website owners can access the IP addresses of everyone who visits their sites, as well as "traffic" details such as what time you visited and the web browser that you use.
Though IP addresses won’t pinpoint a specific location (your home address, for example), it will point in the general direction (such as Brisbane, Queensland) in which your ISP is located. And scarily, you could actually be tracked to your company’s IP address, so, depending on its size, you could be found out. So, who’s to blame when something bad is published?
Forman strongly believes that a contributor should share responsibility with the site’s publisher for what’s posted, as under Australian law, both can be liable for posting defamatory content.
"Generally speaking, a publisher [website owner] can be seen to be a passive conduit conducting ‘innocent dissemination’ if they do not moderate comments before publishing them," explains Forman. "Contributors, however, do have full control over what they decide to type [and post[ and should be held responsible for that." Model outs her online hater…
New York-based model Liskula Cohen successfully sued blogger Rosemary Port for defamation after Port labelled her a "psychotic, lying, whoring…skank" on her blog under a series of posts called "Skanks in NYC". Google (owner of blogger.com) was forced by the courts to "out" the identity of Port by disclosing her IP and email addresses. Port is now suing Google for disclosing her identity,
- 56% of blogs were created by women in 2006 – by 2009, that figure had dropped to 33%. Jezebel.com blogger Anna North attributes this sliding "ladyblogger" stat to the nasty name-calling that many female bloggers endure.