The Boston Globe today has a piece (Town of Southborough considers suing annonymous online commenter) about the unfortunate situation in Southborough, Mass., where the town counsel and selectmen are threatening a lawsuit to uncover the identity of someone who posted comments on Susan Fitzgerald's blog, MySouthborough.com, under the anonymous name "Marty." The Metrowest Daily News had earlier reported this story on March 19 (Southborough selectmen mull legal action over blog comments).
Kudos to Susan, who says she has no intention to reveal Marty's true identity. To her credit, she invited Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano to contribute a post to her blog telling his side of the story. Cipriano declined.
Let's hope Southborough officials come to realize that criticism comes with the job. A lawsuit would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and would serve no good end. The only basis for such a suit would be libel and nothing about this situation would appear to warrant a libel case. And absent a strong showing of libelous harm, courts are unlikely to force a blog owner to reveal the identity of an anonymous commenter.
Susan summed up the situation well when she wrote that free speech isn't always pretty. "In any community there will be people whose opinions make your blood boil," she said. "It’s true of this town, and it’s true of this blog. But how different it would be if selectmen saw this site as a place to engage with their community instead of making it 'us versus them.'"