FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
ACLU of Ohio Offers to Represent Anonymous Defendants in Jefferson County Defamation Case
Defendants Have a First Amendment Right to Anonymous Online Speech and Should be Protected from a CyberSLAPP Lawsuit
STEUBENVILLE, OH – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced that it has offered to represent a number of “John Doe” defendants in a defamation lawsuit and subpoena request currently pending in the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas.
“We believe the real goal of this lawsuit is to discover the identity of anonymous online commenters so that they, and future commenters will be intimidated and discouraged from voicing their opinions,” said ACLU Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood. “This is just an updated form of a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which is typically used to silence speech that is protected under the First Amendment.”
The case in question, Cody Saltsman v. Alexandria Goddard, began after two teenage football players at Steubenville High School were accused of raping a female from a near-by town. Alexandria Goddard, a former resident of Steubenville blogged about the incident, allegedly because she felt that others involved in the incident should be charged. Others also posted online opinions about the case anonymously.
A juvenile student at Steubenville High School named Cody Saltsman was a target of some of these postings, which alleged that he had been involved in the incident but had not been charged. Additional postings mentioned other football players and focused on suggestions that some of the people involved in the rape were not charged and should be brought to justice. Through his parents, Saltsman responded with a lawsuit and a request to issue subpoenas to obtain the identity of the anonymous internet commenters. Goddard’s counsel then involved the ACLU of Ohio, in hopes that the organization could provide representation to other still-anonymous defendants and fully address the First Amendment implications of this cyberSLAPP lawsuit.
“If subpoenas are honored and the identities of these commenters are revealed, the First Amendment damage is done,” said Greenwood. “Even if the lawsuit is ultimately unsuccessful, the Plaintiff will have discouraged others in this small community from engaging in online conversation which they believed to be anonymous. This would have serious implications for other forms of anonymous free speech on the internet.”