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Can You Sue Anonymous Internet Trolls?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

One of the problems with the all-too-common Internet troll is that he or she is mostly anonymous, making it hard to pin down a person in court.

And even if you are able to zero in on your particular troll, there may be little the law can do to compensate you. Sometimes "trolling" is just a very deplorable and infuriating (but legal) part of our Internet lives.

So can you actually sue anonymous Internet trolls? Here are a few things to consider:

Anonymity Isn't a Problem

Internet trolls don't need to find antique bridges to hide under, they simply wrap themselves in the thick shroud of Internet anonymity. And although no one is really anonymous when posting anything online, the threshold amount of information necessary to pull back that shroud is often ample protection.

But never fear! The court system is here. Those who feel slighted by Internet trolls can name them as "Doe" defendants and then use the court's powers to unmask them. This can either be done by subpoenaing the Internet forum which hosts them (like one restaurant did with Yelp) or even the anonymous user's Internet service provider (e.g., Comcast).

Even the founder of the notorious site 4chan, Christopher "moot" Poole, has said that he will comply with subpoenas even if it means ratting out users.

So anonymity is only a practical problem, but there's another: Some "trolling" behavior online is completely legal. While some states have proposed measures to fight trolling, irritating or annoying someone online is often outside of the law's grasp. California was successful in criminalizing "revenge porn" (a common shaming tool of Internet trolls), but other forms of attack remain unchecked.

One of the most common forms of attack for today's Internet troll is "doxxing" (also spelled "doxing"), the gathering and publishing of publicly available (but often personal) information on the Internet. Doxxing can be legal, since users have no real privacy interests in publicly available information. However, doxxing is often used in tandem with threats or demands, which may be illegal extortion.

And while you may be able sue a troll for defamation over inflammatory comments posted on your posts or Facebook wall, most insults or abrasive Internet comments are simply opinions and are not actionable in court.

You don't have to feel powerless at the grubby paws of Internet trolls, an attorney in your area can counsel you on your options.

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