Anonymity gives Internet users courage when posting comments on message boards or articles. If you have ever looked at the comment section on any article or at a message board, then you are sure to have seen some aggressive and often outlandish posts. When people believe they are posting anonymously or behind a pseudonym, they might begin to believe that they can say whatever they want with no consequences. However, it is extremely difficult to be truly anonymous, and what you post may come back to haunt you.
A poster using the pseudonyms of “Fogroller” and “Longitude” found this fact out the hard way. On November 11th and 12th of 2011, “Fogroller” posted comments on Yahoo! Sports alleging, among other things, that the wife of professional golfer Phil Mickelson had an affair and gave birth to an illegitimate child. For obvious reasons, Phil Mickelson was unhappy when he was made aware of the defamatory comments.
Mickelson did not sit idly by and allow the comments to continue. Instead, he filed a complaint in San Diego County superior court on November 21, 2011. The court authorized Mickelson to subpoena Yahoo! Sports for the identity of “Fogroller” and “Longitude.” Mickelson obtained information identifying the pseudonyms as belonging to a Montreal resident. The information also identified the poster’s Internet provider as Canadian telecommunications company, Videotron.
Mickelson was not done yet. He hired a legal team in Quebec, and, on January 25, 2012, he sued Videotron to reveal the identity and location of “Fogroller” due to the defamatory comments. On February 6, 2012, the Quebec court ruled in Mickelson’s favor and gave Videotron ten days to reveal the identity and location of “Fogroller.” It is unclear what happened once Mickelson discovered “Fogroller’s” true identity, but one can only imagine that “Fogroller” was pretty surprised when Mickelson came calling.
While this case represents a rather extreme scenario of online defamation, you may want to think twice before you post a potentially defamatory comment under the guise of anonymity. Your IP address and other identifying information make it extremely difficult to be completely anonymous on the Internet, so be careful what you post—it may come back to haunt you.