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Free speech or defamation? Writer sues to unmask anonymous internet user who accused him of rape in ‘media men’ list




This photo taken on January 7, 2010 shows a woman typing on the keyboard of her laptop computer in Beijing.
This photo taken on January 7, 2010 shows a woman typing on the keyboard of her laptop computer in Beijing.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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Last year, as #MeToo was gaining traction, writer Moira Donegan created a Google Doc called the “sh*tty media men” list, which was meant to crowdsource reports of problematic behavior by men working in magazines and publishing.

The spreadsheet circulated quickly, picking up over 70 different names. Now one of those names has filed a federal lawsuit. Writer and filmmaker Stephen Elliott is seeking a court-ordered retraction, $1.5 million in damages and for Google to hand over medata from the list, in order to unmask those who anonymously interacted with the list, whether they commented on it or shared it.

The suit raises legal questions about whether Elliot has a right to know the identities of his accusers and whether those accusers (and everyone else who would be outed) have a right to remain anonymous. On the one hand, those allegations could be false and have caused damage to Elliot’s professional reputation. On the other hand, anonymity allows people to speak out about abuses.

We discuss the legal and ethical implications raised by the suit.

Guests:

Steven Gebelin, trial attorney who specializes in intellectual property and internet law at Syverson, Lesowitz and Gebelin LLP in Beverly Hills; he has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in defamation lawsuits

Aaron Mackey, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where he works on issues such as free speech, privacy and transparency; he tweets @aaron_d_mackey