Andrew Cohen's Corner: The Problem With Anonymous Bloggers

NEW YORK (CBS) Bloggers beware... If you choose to trash-talk online and insult people, you may not be able to hide behind a web of anonymity.

Canadian model Liskula Cohen says she was unfairly trashed by an anonymous blogger last year through Google's service. The blogger's page, called "Skanks in NYC," was largely devoted to trashing Cohen.

The former Vogue model took Google to court, demanding the blogger's identity so she could sue for damages. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge ordered Google to release the blogger's information.

In the aftermath, Cohen has forgiven the blogger, who turned out to be an acquaintance. And Google has apologized.

Now the question is what does this ruling mean for Internet bloggers and privacy rights?

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen (no relation) blogs about the case and his own troubles with anonymous bloggers.

Don't get me started about anonymous bloggers who post atrocious information.

Model Liskula Cohen won her fight in New York to go after an online harasser after a judge ruled that the search engine Google must cough up the information on the person responsible for posting arguably defamatory information about Cohen on a website. Other judges in other states have similarly begun to side with plaintiffs like Cohen in these sorts of cases and it won't be long before state legislators begin to expand local privacy laws to offer more protection.

But the story is rather personal to me. I am also a victim of an anonymous blogger who is using my name and likeness on a site in Illinois and then posting atrociously inappropriate comments. The result is that people might believe that these anti-Semitic rants are coming from me, and not the yahoo who has somehow decided that it's funny and appropriate to ruin my reputation in this fashion.

Photo: Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen says a blogger damaged her reputation.

In the past, when I've asked the site operator to simply block those posts—I don't care who the guy is, and I'm not inclined to sue for defamation like Liskula Cohen intends to do—I've been met with an arrogant and defiant "screw you."

So I applaud Google for turning over the information that the model Liskula sought for her lawsuit and I encourage other website operators and owners to do the right thing when these sorts of things crop up.

It's one thing for anonymous bloggers to post comments critical of the government. It's another thing for anonymous bloggers to pretend to be someone else in doing so. And it's entirely disingenuous for site owners and operators to hide behind privacy issues in protecting the identities of the people who are doing such hurtful things.

Andrew Cohen is CBS News' Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor. He covers legal issues for CBS News, CBS News Radio, and hundreds of television and radio affiliates around the country. He is a Murrow-Award-winning "recovering attorney" who has provided commentary and analysis for the network since 1997.