Internet Blogs: How Anonymous is Anonymous?


"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

Who ever came up with that slogan never dreamed of the internet and what could be said about them on a community blog.  They're popping up all over the web and it seems people are flooding the net to post and read them, and some of the posts are down right cruel.

So what do you do when something terrible and untrue has been posted about you on a website?

Private attorney Bill Bristow says you may be able to take them to court.

"If you say something about somebody that is not true and it is damaging to them then they have a private cause of action to go before a jury and ask that a judgement be assessed against you. Because it is intentional and malicious, a jury could award punitive damages to punish that person for saying those things."

But the biggest problem many face when trying to file a lawsuit is the damaging words are posted by someone using anonymous as their username.

KAIT's Internet Producer, Stan Morris explains what happens when you post on a community blog.

"People who are making posts anonymously aren't really guaranteed that it's truly anonymous. The way it works, is that every time someone makes a post on any website, it's coupled with a unique IP address, and that IP address is specifically linked to a person, an organization, or a business."

Some blogs list the IP address publically but all of them log it. That means in the case of a supoena or even official request, one can be tracked down. Depending on the owner or manager of the blog, the request might be honored even for a private citizen.

"Somebody could require you to get a court order, but in most cases, blog administrators will cooperate."

And once you have the IP address, tracing it isn't that difficult.

"It's as easy as going to a search engine, typing in IP lookup and then putting in the IP number. When there is only one computer hooked up to a certain internet connection, then it is traced back to the individual."

An individual who thought they were anonymous.

Attorney Bill Bristow says it could mean jail time.

"You could be incarcerated for something you meant as a joke."

He explains that once you find out who posted the comments, there is a procedure to file the law suit, but it is expensive and time consuming.

"Doing something like this is considered intentional by nature, so it is not covered by insurance.  Could you collect and the question of do those lawsuits ever get filed, but in theory it could be a substantial lawsuit.", Bristow.

So, if you find out who made the posts, are you willing to pay the money for attorney and court fees? And in the end, no matter how many lawsuits are filed, it appears these community blogs aren't going anywhere.

"It takes 5 seconds to make one, and a month to take it down, so they won't go away. But the best thing for people to do is to not visit these websites.", Morris.

Something easier said than done.

If you have questions about your legal rights concerning community blogs, contact your attorney. If you do not have an attorney,'s Ask The Attorney section may be of interest.