Skanks for the memories: What we learn from Liskula's pain

Users should understand that while most anonymous Internet comments can be reliably hidden behind, if you cross a line, there's a good likelihood you'll be outed and may even end up in court

People who use Internet anonymity to cover their filthy tracks should take notice. Liskula Cohen's case shows they can be unmasked, and fairly easily, too. With the culprit known, a jury may end up deciding who's really the "skankiest' in New York City.

Users should understand that while most anonymous Internet comments can be reliably hidden behind--and there are valid reasons for anonymity--if you cross a line, there's a good likelihood you'll be outed and may even end up in court.

Even if no lawsuit is filed, the real threat of naming-and-shaming, as the Brits call it, may be potent enough for people to keep their worst impulses to themselves.

Anonymous, defamatory postings are just the tip of the iceberg. Cyberbullying, even by adults against children, can have fatal consequences. As can the posting of what was intended to be personal photos sent--foolishly--to a young boyfriend who later sent them on to friends.

Not all of this can or should be solved in the courts. People have to use common sense in what they post or send online. Once it is out there, it truly may be available to a worldwide audience and stay there essentially forever.

I am aware of those who feel the First Amendment is supposed to protect this sort of speech. I think not. We already have laws concerning slander and libel and I'd like to see something that addresses harassment that results in injury or death. I am not sure how we do that, but the mom whose attacks resulted in the death of a teen girl really needs to be in jail.

In some ways, I think that signed, non-anonymous speech, should have greater protection than speech where the speaker seeks to hide his or her identity. I think there is some difference between a person willing to sign their name calling Ms. Cohen a "skank" and an anonymous charge. Maybe not much of a difference, but at least people can "consider the source" when the source is named.

I hope Liskula's case makes people think before they commit vile attacks while hiding behind an anonymous user name. It proves that someday they may have own up to their words--and the damage they can cause.

Likewise, I believe services like Google's Blogger.com, where the attack against Ms. Cohen was posted, need to take steps to clean up the content they host to, as much as possible, prevent incidents like this one in the future.

David Coursey has been working to make the Internet a friendlier place for many years. He tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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