Rogersville woman sues over anonymous web post

11:30 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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An East Tennessee woman is suing a person whose identity she does not know after they wrote a post about her a popular social media website.

In a lawsuit filed January 8 in Hawkins County Circuit Court, Rogersville resident Sarah Davis claimed an anonymous user was defaming her reputation on Topix.com, a website where people can post their thoughts in hyper-local community forums.

The anonymous person, who goes by the name "LUV2WALK", wrote on the website that Davis had committed adultery in a Rogersville park. Davis denies the claims and is now suing that user for $200,000.

Her attorney William Phillips II said there were multiple posts and threats made in regards to the allegation.

"They [the user] certainly have an agenda in defaming the character of Ms. Davis," Phillips said.

He said he would like for the anonymous user to reveal their identity as it would be "the noble thing to do."

"Individuals post on Topix on a daily basis," Phillips said. "They constantly defame the characters of everyday citizens and I think they do it under the guise they can hide behind their anonymity."

In the lawsuit, Phillips and Davis have given the anonymous user 30 days to file a responsive pleading under their actual name. If the user does not do so, the lawsuit reads that Phillips and Davis will ask the court to issue a judicial subpoena directing Topix to hand over all copies of all threads and posts pertaining to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also said that the subpoena would ask Topix to provide the user's IP address, which would help identify the person behind the posts.

Phillips said he and his client posted a notice on the website directed toward the anonymous user that has since been removed.

10News talked to Topix CEO Chris Tolles about the matter. He said Topix, which is widely used in Appalachia, does not think Phillips and Davis' proposed actions sound unreasonable.

"If this goes to the court system and we are subpoenaed, we are unlikely to stand against that subpoena," Tolles said. "I haven't seen it yet, so it's hard to say what I will or will not do."

He says under the Communications Decency Act, Topix is not responsible for content posted by third party users.

Tolles said he admits there are advantages and disadvantages to allowing users to post anonymously on Topix. However, he said it is a feature the site needs in order to build up users in smaller communities.

"Our ability to actually do something interesting requires there to be some sort of audience there," Tolles said.

Either way, legal experts like Knoxville attorney Don Bosch advises web users not to make defamatory claims online as they are subject to the same laws that they would be anywhere else.

"Defamation is defamation and whether it be electronic, print or spoken, it still subjects an individual to a civil legal action should they make such a statement," he said.

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