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Internet Trolls Beware … You Are Not Alone

Perhaps unfortunately for me, my website and blog have my name, picture, and even my dog’s name, so it’s not exactly a forum for me to act anonymously. So, mailman who keeps leaving my mail on our fence instead of in the mailbox, you can rest easy; no attack on a blog for you. However, a growing problem for business owners is that they are being attacked anonymously on various “whistle blower” message boards or through phantom email accounts – it is incredibly easy to get a gmail account these days. There are two questions for business owners to ask regarding these anonymous posters: 1) Is this an actionable claim; 2) Can I track these people down?

In North Carolina, in order to recover for defamation, a Plaintiff must establish that the Defendant made:

1. False, Defamatory Statements;
2. That these statements are of or concerning the Plaintiff;
3. That these statements were published to a third person;
4. That these statements caused injury to the Plaintiff’s reputation.

For a lot of business owners, regrettably, the biggest hurdle is that the statements are often true. But if you someone is falsely disparaging you via a website, message board, or email list, this constitutes a publication under North Carolina law. If the statements are damaging – and occasionally they can be considered per se damaging, more on this in a later blog – then you may have a claim for defamation. Of course defamation is not limited to businesses or business owners, if you are an individual you may have a claim as well.

Additionally, do not think that these posts are necessarily anonymous. Plaintiffs have the ability to track down “John Doe” defendants through subpoenas of internet service providers and domain names. A Plaintiff can sue an individual whose identity is unknown and use the discovery process to identify the individual. There are structures in place to protect the privacy rights of those individuals, but message board “trolls” are not completely immune from suit.

If you are a business or individual being attacked with false statements on the web, or in other media, consider whether a defamation claim would be appropriate. You can contact Maginnis Law, PLLC for a consultation regarding the potential strength of your claim. Maginnis Law is a Raleigh business litigation law firm which also practices in Apex, Morrisville, Holly Springs, and the rest of the Research Triangle area. Contact the firm at 919-526-0450 to schedule an initial consultation.