February 6, 2008 / 10:35 PM / 11 years ago

California court bars unmasking of Web critic

File photo shows a person using a computer keyboard. A California appeals court on Wednesday said an anonymous Internet poster does not have to reveal his identity after being sued for making "scathing verbal attacks" against executives at a Florida company on a Yahoo! Inc message board. REUTERS/file photo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California appeals court on Wednesday said an anonymous Internet poster does not have to reveal his identity after being sued for making “scathing verbal attacks” against executives at a Florida company on a Yahoo! Inc message board.

The Sixth Appellate District in Santa Clara County reversed a trial court ruling that would have allowed a former executive at SFBC International Inc to subpoena Yahoo! for the names of her critics.

The appeal was filed by a poster whose screen name includes a Spanish expletive but who is known as “Doe 6” in the lawsuit filed by former SFBC Chairman and COO Lisa Krinsky in 2006.

Krinsky accuses Doe 6 and nine other Yahoo! Finance posters of libel, fraud and other claims arising from posts they made about her while she was a company officer.

The appellate court concluded that while Doe 6’s messages were “unquestionably offensive and demeaning,” they could not be counted as defamation since they could not be considered assertions of fact.

Without a cause of action, Krinsky could not overcome Doe 6’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously on the Internet, the court said.

The decade-old controversy over pseudonymous posting in invest or chat rooms took a major twist last July when the U.S. regulators revealed that Whole Foods Market Inc CEO John Mackey had been posting in Yahoo! Finance under a fake name for several years.

His messages boosted his own company’s strategy and denigrated those of rival supermarket chain Wild Oats, which Whole Foods later sought to acquire.

Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Gary Hill

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