"Many 21st century cases have established various standards for compelling disclosure of anonymous posters' identities in the different states. A leading case on this subject is Dendrite Intern Inc. v. Doe ... its standard has been cited in a number of jurisdictions ..." - Whitney C. Gibson and Jordan S. Cohen, in Vorys Internet Defamation, March 10, 2014. Here is the article.
This week on Abovethelaw.com, Kathryn Rubino reported on Layfield & Barnett's subpoena against Glassdoor. The law firm wants the identity of the employees who posted negative anonymous comments about working there. Layfield & Barnett also filed a lawsuit for defamation.
Rubino contacted Glassdoor for comment. In response, Glassdoor's vice president of corporate affairs Dawn Lyon stated that it will not disclose the identity of the posters. They are protected by the First Amendment. In addition, Glassdoor will go to court to fight for that right. Here you can read Rubino's coverage.
As yet, this legal development has not become a high-profile media story. It may or may not be. Much of that depends on how much publicity either or both parties create for their points of view. In terms of public relations, Glassdoor could make hay in its support of the First Amendment.
But that's that very obvious top layer of media attention. If the issue comes to the attention of Everyman and Everywoman, it might have the effect of reducing significantly participation in anonymous posting. What will come out is that in the past, legal action has required that the posters' names be revealed. That's scary.
Layfiield & Barrett's move could embolden other deep pockets to take action against sites which "defame" them through anonymous comments. For example, Glassdoor contains four negative reviews for The Dilenschneider Group, a public relations firm located in Manhattan and Chicago. Here they are. The head of the firm, Bob Dilenschneider, has the financial resources to also sue. Will he et al.? That depends if there is a Layfield & Barrett effect.
In addition, not everyone is all that bullish about supposed freedom of speech on the Internet. They might not assess Glassdoor's stance as the right thing to do. Twice I had been ambushed by anonymous posters. Once was by Mediabistro.com. That lasted about four days. The commentators gleefully mused that their postings would be captured by the search engines. They were. The second massacre was by Gawker. That endured over several years. Had I been a deep pocket I would have taken the same steps Layfield & Barrett has.
The legal system is unpredictable. That's exactly why in these economically volatile times there are fewer bet-the-ranch trials. Litigation practices at many law firms are suffering.
In this matter of Layfield & Barrett against Glassdoor, no one knows what the verdict will be if this litigation gets to the courtroom. Both sides are playing with fire. And it's likely both sides know that. Since they do, they might decide to settle.
However, there still might be a Layfield & Barrett effect. In my little life there already has been. I was going to post a negative anonymous evaluation of a primary care physician here in Tucson, Arizona. Now I won't. That MD is a deep pocket.