Here's a recipe for New York tabloid heaven: the words "model," "whore," and "lawsuit." Oh, and internet cyberbullying. Deja vu from a case last year? Yeah, but Carla Franklin's lawsuit takes it to the next level: the anonymous YouTube commenter.
Specifically, "JoeBoom08," "JimmyJean008," and "greyspector09." Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Internet knows that YouTube commenters are the lowest form in the taxonomy. Franklin, a Columbia Business School grad who is currently a non-profit business consultant, experienced the phenomenon when Columbia posted videos of her (like the one above) talking about her business school and career experience.
The suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court alleged that those commenters posted "malicious and untrue" statements about her, calling her a "whore," and posting unauthorized clips from an independent film Franklin appeared in, and demands that Google hand over the identity behind the handles. (Franklin's lawyer said he suspects the same person is behind all of them.)
Last year, when ex-model Liskula Cohen sued Google to find out who was behind a Blogger-hosted "Skanks In NYC" blog that had devoted some space to trashing her, the judge ruled in her favor and made Google hand over Rosemary Port's name. (Google eventually said that since Port had agreed to Blogger's terms of service, she had conceded the possibility that legal action might force them to reveal her personal information.) The public shaming apparently satisfied Cohen, and she never filed suit against Port herself. Not long afterwards, TrueSlant's Kashmir Hill consulted experts on the legal implications. On the one hand, they told her,
Anonymous speech is important. It's a constitutional right. But it's meant to prevent the suppression of subversive ideas and to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation: whistleblowers, government critics, victims. Not those using the cover of anonymity for a vicious, slanderous catfight.
On the other hand, pursuing legal action to undo that anonymity doesn't thrill civil liberties advocates:
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have labeled cases like this one "CyberSLAPPs": frivolous lawsuits with the sole purpose of issuing a subpoena to a Web site or Internet Service Provider (ISP) to discover the identity of an anonymous critic and to intimidate or silence them. Cohen's decision to drop her lawsuit a day after she filed it and publicized Port's name lends credence to that label.
How could the tabloids have missed an opportunity to pun on "whore" and "cyberSLAPPs"? They're clearly slipping.
NYC Woman To Google: Who's Posting Trash About Me? [AP]
Brainy Ex-model Carla Franklin Suing Google To Expose Cyberbully Who Called Her 'Whore' On YouTube [NYDN]
Columbia Biz Grad Demands Web Side Bare Heckler's ID [NYP]
Related: Lessons Learned From The 'Skanks In NYC,' Or The Future of Anonymous Online Commentary [TrueSlant]