Whether a candidate for office may obtain the identity of an individual providing anonymous online comments
The facts of this case began in an online chat on a suburban newspaper's comment board. The chat was between two individuals (one later identified as a minor) who posted various sarcastic comments about a local election under anonymous screen names. The minor's mother, a candidate in the election, was the subject of much of the chatter.
Using Supreme Court Rule 224 (Ill. S. Ct. R. 224), she ultimately filed a petition on her son's behalf, seeking the discovery of a commenter’s identity (referred to as John Doe). The comments were allegedly defamatory of her child. Initially, the trial court ordered that the identity of the subscriber to the internet protocol (IP) address used by John Doe when posting on the website would be revealed to petitioner.
John Doe appealed. He asserted that the trial court applied the wrong standard because the challenged comments were not defamatory. John Doe also contended that the challenged comments were immune by the Citizen Participation Act, which protects the constitutional rights of citizens and organizations to be involved and participate freely in the process of government.
The appellate court held that John Doe’s identity should not be revealed because the minor’s mother did not allege enough facts to show a cause of action for defamation, which is required under Ill. S. Ct. R. 224. Based upon its ruling, the court did not address John Doe’s assertion that the challenged comments were immune by the Citizen Participation Act. However, this case serves as a reminder to elected officials that citizens have broad First Amendment rights that require elected officials to have thick skin.