Identifying an Anonymous Online Defamer

It has never been easier for disgruntled consumers, ex-employees, ex-spouses and competitors to publicly air their grievances to a large audience. It is becoming increasingly common for the angry and scorned to take to the web to anonymously vent. However, what happens when these anonymous posts are untrue and can harm the reputation of their targets?

While online defamation law is still emerging, victims of the potentially defamatory statements will need to determine the identity of the poster in order to bring an action against the poster personally.

Identifying the Anonymous Poster

If the victim and his legal counsel are prepared to conduct a bit of sleuth work, the following strategies can help identify the anonymous poster:

  1. Conduct Whois searches – The victim can use the website URL to identify the registrant/registrar and/or Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) of the domain that contains the posting.
  2. Utilize IP Address Lookups – If the IP address of the poster is listed, this tool can determine the host and ISP of the IP address user and the approximate location of where the post occurred.
  3. Cease and desist letters – The victim’s lawyer can send compliant cease and desist letters to the registrant/operator of the website/blog, registrar and ISP (as the case may be) to try and obtain the identity of the anonymous poster.
  4. Review website’s Terms of Service – The terms of service of the website/blog may prohibit the posting of potentially defamatory statements. These prohibitions can be referenced in the cease and desist letters to compel the removal of the statements.
  5. Begin an action against John or Jane Doe – If after implementing the above strategies, you still do not know the identity of the anonymous poster, consider initiating an action against a John or Jane Doe and obtaining a court order to compel the registrant/operator of the website or ISP to reveal the identity of the poster.