A local judge opened a can of worms today by ordering Google to reveal the identity of a Youtube user who created a creepy video shrine to business consultant Carla Franklin.
The video mixed innocuous footage of Franklin from student films with sensitive personal information and was accompanied by several sexual slurs in the comments, including one that called Franklin a whore.
What laws did this cyber-stalker violate? The judge felt that the YouTube shrine constituted harassment. Now it will be up to Google to try and identify the stalker.
“There’s a tension there – there’s a First Amendment right to be able to speak anonymously, but there’s no First Amendment right to violate the law,” Bennet G. Kelley, an attorney who specializes in Internet law, told Yahoo News. “People think: ‘It’s the Internet. I can do whatever I want,’” he said, but “the law applies, online and offline.”
One major hurdle is that the disturbing comments and the video itself were posted by three different YouTube users. There is no way for the judge to know if these accounts belong to the same person.
If they don’t, does the video alone constitute harassment without the word “whore” in the comments? Once Google turns the IP addresses over to the court, the privacy of those users has been breached. On any given day, thousands of disturbing and downright frightening comments directed at individuals appear on the comment boards of most major news sites. Could any of these be interpreted as harassment?
It’s a brave new world out there folks, so watch where you comment.
bpopper [at] observer.com