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The Indianapolis Star was ordered to turn over "identifying information" on some anonymous commenters but reportedly hasn't complied yet.(Credit: WRTV)

An Indiana judge has called on two media outlets to turn over “identifying information” for anonymous commenters, the Indy Star reported.  That identifying information can than be used to find out the name of the commenters from an Internet provider, and the commenter may be included in a defamation lawsuit.

Jeffrey and Cynthia Miller sought the information for the anonymous commenters from three media outlets.  Jeffrey Miller is the former CEO of nonprofit educational organization Junior Achievement of Central Indiana.  So far, two — IndyStar.com and the Indianapolis Business Journal — have already been ordered to turn over the information. The judge is to rule soon on a third media outlet, TV station WRTVaccording to IndyStar.com, the website for the Indianapolis Star.

Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press noted that the alleged defamatory statements “include the accusation that he committed ‘most likely a criminal act,’ a description of him as ‘the most greedy man I’ve ever known,’ and a comment saying ‘somebody needs to call the state’s attorney general and investigate him,'” the Star reported the lawsuit said.

But, it’s important to note that the anonymous commenters to be outed are not sources for the newspaper — just commenters on the site.

The three media outlets “fought the subpoenas” to out the anonymous commenters, but the judge ordered the Star and the Journal to provide “identifying information” for the anonymous commenters.

Miller and his wife originally filed a defamation suit last year against current CEO of Junior Achievement Jennifer Burk, Central Indiana Communication Foundation president Brian Payne and the two organizations, EditorsWeblog explained.  However, the suit was “amended” to add “as many as nine other people” and the three media outlets via the comments.

“Our practice is not to reveal the names” of the site’s anonymous commenters, Star Editor and Vice President Dennis Ryerson is quoted as saying. “We’ve long had a practice of protecting sources at all levels.”

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“We now are reviewing our legal options,” Ryerson is quoted as saying.

The Journal complied with the judge’s order, IndyStar.com reported Kevin Betz, Miller’s attorney. said.  Betz added:

“This is not an assault on the shield law.  In fact, it is well within the bounds of the traditional terms of the shield law. I don’t think the media should be interested … in protecting the identities of cyberbullies. I don’t think these people are advancing any cause of democracy or purposeful free speech.”

“All it is is cyberbullying. And these kind of individuals need to understand there is accountability for that kind of behavior.”

Indiana newspaper Journal & Courier reported that Indiana lawyer Roger Bennett expressed concern that the ruling might “hurt the frequency and quality of online discussions.”

“If that happens, there’s going to be a real chill of open discussions on the Internet,” Bennett is quoted as saying. “Many maintainers of websites will just close them down. That’s why I think it’s important the judge take a good hard look at this.”

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