How to Identify Anonymous Authors of Defamatory Posts

How to Identify Anonymous Authors of Defamatory Posts

One of the most cringe-worthy moments in a professional’s life is finding a negative review about the business that they have worked so hard to build. Not only is the review damaging; but also it’s not true. You immediately think of the strain this public red flag could put on you and your business. What’s worse, the defamatory post was made anonymously.

In situations like these, it’s natural to feel frustrated and helpless. How can you reach out to the person to resolve the situation if you don’t know who wrote the post?

Fortunately, the Internet isn’t as secretive as it seems. Here are four ways we can help you identify anonymous authors of defamatory posts.

Option 1: Use Contextual Evidence

Sometimes, you can read between the lines of what a person is writing to identify who they are. This is known as contextual evidence.

If the defamatory post mentions any specifics, such as dates, circumstances, events, or actions, you might be able to ascertain the author of the post. Look for confidential information that only a handful of people had access to – that can help you narrow down your search. Talk to your staff and ask for their input. Many times, the context of the post can trigger a memory of a person or group, which can help you identify the author.

Option 2: Issue a Subpoena

When people make postings on the Internet they leave a digital trail, such as the IP (Internet Protocol) address that identifies the connection to the Internet from which the author made the defamatory posting.  To get access to this IP address, you need a subpoena to the website on which the defamatory post appears.

Before you can issue a subpoena, you first have to file a lawsuit. Since you don’t know who the author is, you should file the lawsuit against “John or Jane Doe.” Depending on the state you file the lawsuit, as well as the state that the website is based, you will likely need to present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the posting is false and that is has harmed you or your business. You will also need to post a notice on the website regarding the subpoena so that the author has the opportunity to object before their identity is disclosed.

Once you get the IP address and other information from the website, you may need to issue a second subpoena.  IP addresses typically trace back to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as Time Warner, Verizon, Comcast, etc. The second subpoena is necessary to identify which subscriber of the ISP utilized the specific IP address when the posting was made. That subscriber is likely the person who defamed you.  

Option 3: Talk to a Forensic Linguistic Expert

In addition to leaving a digital trail in the form of an IP address, anonymous authors leave a linguistic footprint in the way they write.  Each person has their own tendencies when it comes to word choice, punctuation use, sentence length, and other linguistic traits.  Forensic linguistics analyze these writing patterns and can tell you if they match a specific person’s writing habits. That’s how they caught the Unabomber!

A forensic linguistics expert can compare the writing in the defamatory posting to writing samples from persons of interest (suspects). The key here is that you have to have writing samples from the people you suspect authored the defamatory posting.  Emails, memos, and letters are all helpful in this case.

The forensic linguistics expert takes all of this material, analyzes it, and then tells you if any of the suspects match the writing in the defamatory posting. We had a case where we sent writing samples from 18 different persons of interest to our preferred forensic linguistic expert.  He quickly identified one of the persons of interest as the author and ruled out all of the rest. We then filed a lawsuit against that individual and they immediately confessed to publishing the defamatory review.

Option 4: Employ Internet Investigators

A fourth option for identifying an anonymous Internet author is to retain an Internet investigator.  These investigators are great at uncovering footprints most people do not know to look for to identify anonymous authors.  

In some cases, an Internet investigator can reach out to the anonymous author posing as someone who agrees with their cause or finding mutual ground to encourage them to click on an Internet link or engage them in email correspondence.  Such a simple interaction can reveal the anonymous author’s IP address.  

What Should You Do?

If your business has been defamed online, you should take action. The long-term impact of having your business defamed can be devastating. It’s imperative that you stop the anonymous poster before more harm is done to your business.

Although it might seem like a daunting process up front, having the assistance and guidance of an Internet lawyer can be a tremendous help. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your business uncover the identity of a defamatory author, and expose the person who’s causing your business hardship.