Do we have to provide the identity of an anonymous commenter upon request?

Paper cut outs of question marks strewn around a desk next to a hand holing a pen

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Legal Question of the Week.”

Q: What if a person who is mentioned on a reader comment board wants the identity of an anonymous commenter?

A: The short story is that you are under no obligation to give that information to the person without a court order. Usually, if a person wants to track down the author of an online comment, the person will have to prove that he exhausted all other options before turning to the media. If you are ever subpoenaed to disclose the author of a comment, contact the SPLC or another media law attorney that will be able to assist you.

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Legal Questions of the Week are selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Legal Question of the Week segment.