On Speech On “Skanks”

My civil libertarian friends are “worried” about the precedent set in the recent Liskula Cohen case. In the case, a formerly anonymous blogger said some nasty things about Cohen. So nasty that Cohen sued to unmask the blogger’s identity and was successful in doing so. The blogger is now suing Google alleging that the company owed her a fiduciary duty and should not have revealed her identity.

Critics of the Cohen case tend to focus on the fact that the blogger called Cohen a “skank.” They argue that the word is mere hyperbole and not an objective fact. But the blogger said and did much more than that. From the opinion (PDF):

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I think the civil libertarians are wrong on this case. Privacy is not an unlimited right. Cohen pierced the blogger’s veil of anonymity, but to do so she had to go to court and prove some merits of the case. Maligning another as promiscuous has always been defamatory, and the First Amendment has always allowed punishing such expression. This type of speech carries with it serious harm to women, especially those who rely upon their reputation in their work.