The power of words is undeniable. Joseph Conrad expressed it in these terms: “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.” Today, because of the accessibility of social media, nearly any person can publish any words in an attempt to make others see things a certain way.
From blogs to Facebook to Twitter, the options for sharing one’s opinions with the world are numerous, and social media allows words to be used for good and bad. A Vatican court recently announced that those who follow the Pope on Twitter can receive indulgences that will allow them to spend less time in purgatory. For believers, this is certainly one positive thing resulting from life in the digital age.
The ability to anonymously publish words that are untrue, hurtful or irresponsible is another thing that draws people to the internet. Without any accountability, a person may use social media to publicly proclaim thoughts he would never want associated with his name. For example, the “comments” section following an online news article is often filled with derogatory and disrespectful remarks, in addition to well-reasoned and enlightening opinions. All of these comments are made anonymously, with a clever screen name being the only identification of the person behind the words.
But anonymity extends beyond harmless two- or three-sentence comments. I know of a person—call him Jack—who recently found a Facebook account in his name. Jack was not the person who created the account and had no knowledge of it. Instead, an unidentified third-party created the account and filled it with multiple false and demeaning statements about Jack. Any unsuspecting friend or acquaintance of Jack (or even a prospective employer) could have easily found the web page and believed that Jack had written it, thereby severely damaging Jack’s relationships and reputation.
The good news is that there are often ways to discover who is behind false or defamatory statements that appear on the web. With court subpoena powers and other helpful laws, a person’s supposed anonymity is not without limits. If you discover that someone has anonymously made damaging false statements about you or your company, there may be a way to discover who it is and hold that person accountable for his or her words. Also, if you are one who likes to post things online, you should know that words do not always remain anonymous.
Attorney Profile: Nathaniel Wadsworth, Litigation Attorney
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