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A Companion to New Media Dynamics by Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, John Hartley

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Chapter 18

Pseudonyms and the Rise of the Real-Name Web

Bernie Hogan

Introduction

During her 2010 re-election campaign, Phyllis Morris, the mayor of Aurora, Ontario, Canada, was harshly criticized on the website Auroracitizen.ca. After Morris lost to a newcomer, she blamed the site, and three commenters in particular, for her loss. Furious that they could say things critical of a mayor, she took them to court. She sued the commenters, the moderators, and even Wordpress.com for hosting the content. Justice Carole Brown of the Ontario Superior Court oversaw and in the summer of 2011 ruled in favor of the commenters. In the ruling, the judge noted that “in the circumstances of this case…the public interest favoring disclosure clearly does not outweigh the legitimate interests in freedom of expression and the right to privacy of the persons sought to be identified” (Morris v Johnson 2011). Since the plaintiff could not point to any libelous content and it appeared that she simply did not like pointed, but legitimate, criticism, the defendants did not need to have their IP addresses or other identifying remarks revealed.

Now imagine instead that a site such as this only used Facebook connect. Next to each comment was an individual's face, their name, and a link to all manner of personally identifying information. Imagine the users of that site making similarly critical comments about a person of public standing. One might still be in a position to sue the site, or even Facebook itself; ...

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