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Google lawsuit dispels the Web's oldest tradition: anonymity

By / August 20, 2009

Thanks to New York Justice Joan Madden and model Liskula Cohen, the mask is off.

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When fashion model Liskula Cohen sued Google, she took aim at one of the key online tenets: On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.

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Disguised in comforting anonymity, bloggers and online commenters can type some pretty nasty things – accusations and language that they'd never say to people face-to-face. However, the masquerade ball may have just ended.

Ms. Cohen brought Google to court, demanding that the company reveal the identity of a blogger that she says defamed her. The NYC-gossip blogger mocked Cohen and called the model a "40-something" who "may have been hot 10 years ago." Cohen was 36 at the time. The post, which ran on Google's Blogger service, has since been removed.

Judge Joan Madden agreed with Cohen and ordered Google to give up the name. As the Times reports: The New York Supreme Court Justice "rejected the blogger’s claim that the blogs 'serve as a modern-day forum for conveying personal opinions, including invective and ranting', and should not be treated as factual assertions."

On “Good Morning America” yesterday, the Giorgio Armani and Versace model told Dianne Sawyer that the online taunter was actually an acquaintance –“an irrelevant person in my life … that girl who was always there.” Now that she knows the blogger's identity, Cohen has second thoughts about a libel lawsuit.

But other bloggers should watch out. Justice Madden just rewrote the assumed rules for online decency.

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[Editor's note: The original version of this story used the wrong phrase to describe Cohen's feelings about a potential libel suit against the unmasked blogger. She is not "second guessing" herself, but rather has "second thoughts."]

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