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COMMENTARY | Trolls basking in the Internet's anonymity to lob threats and smear reputations on networks like Facebook are one step closer to justice after a London court ruling this week. Trolls marked Nicola Brookes for harassment over her opinion about the "X Factor" TV show, publishing false statements and calling her a drug dealer and pedophile, Y! Tech said. A U.K. court has opened the doors of justice by insisting Facebook reveal the trolls' identities.
It's not only in the U.K. that Internet anonymity is increasingly being challenged as bold trolls engage in abuse so extreme it has major life repercussions for victims. In a recent U.S. case involving then-presidential contender Michele Bachmann, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth pierced the veil of anonymity afforded by Twitter after a troll threatened to use a "Vietnam era machete" on Bachmann, Tecca reported. Lamberth said his finding wasn't premised on the belief the anonymous tweeter would act on the threat. Instead he said the troll's identity should be uncloaked to allow a full investigation of the threat.
Some anonymous cyberbullying targets acquaintances, but trolls also harass random strangers. The Chicago Tribune told of trolling strangers setting up a website to harass prospective Yale law student Brittan Heller, falsely accusing her of a lesbian affair with a school administrator and bribing admissions officials. Heller lost out on summer jobs because of the posts and ended up hospitalized, the report said. Still the trolls didn't stop, unleashing new rounds of harassment when Heller graduated and obtained employment.
Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerburg last year called for an end to Internet anonymity, a sentiment also shared by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the Huffington Post noted.
New York is considering legislation that wouldn't directly forbid anonymous trolling but would require trolls to identify themselves or have their posts removed within 48 hours of a complaint being lodged. The Economic Policy Journal condemned the bill, saying, "cyberbullying is not one of the great tragedies of the Internet age. The nanny state and totalitarian government are the great tragedies of the age."
But Justia disagreed, saying the bill might benefit from refining but is necessary to curtail anonymous posters hiding behind the Internet to facilitate crimes like harassment or to defame innocent people.