Two former mobile marketing executives are taking some 30 anonymous Internet trolls to court for making “abusive, vulgar and damning” comments about them online.
Paul Arena, the former CEO of Augme Technologies, now known as Hipcricket, and Nathaniel Bradley, the former CTO, filed suit in Brooklyn Federal Court on Friday to unmask at least 30 people who made disparaging comments about them after they resigned in 2012, the New York Daily News reported in an exclusive.
Trolls accused Arena and Bradley of criminal activities. They spread rumors that the pair stole money from investors, pumped up the company’s stock, engaged in scandalous office romances and were therefore fired from Augme.
“The posts were abusive, vulgar, and damning to the plaintiffs, and were accessible to millions of Internet users around the world,” the complaint reads.
One critic referred to the pair as the “the bangbros of pump stock.”
Arena and Bradley plan to subpoena Internet service providers in order to indentify the people who posted under various screen names, including "BullTrader," "caveat64emptor," "i2telecoscammedme4lots," "sandwormrider," "lookoutbelow99" and "pumpanddump340985." When they have those identities, they will amend the lawsuit to include their legal names.
Arena and Bradley also want to order every ISP to permanently disable access to the posts.
Cases like this one are setting precedents across the county. It remains to be seen exactly how seriously judges will take allegations of online defamation.
When a troll accused Tina Jackson, chair of the Kootenai County Republican Party Central Committee in Idaho, of stealing $10,000 from the committee, Jackson sued for defamation in 2012.
The comment appeared in a local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review. A judge ruled that the newspaper would have to turn over the identity of the commenter.
Matt Zimmerman, a senior staff attorney for the tech watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation, applauded the ruling and said comments must be held to the legal standard of defamation.
“I think this is a very good ruling on free speech because it identifies the right legal framework for courts to use in the future," Zimmerman said.
Others argue that online comments don't hold the same weight as offline defamation.
“As someone who had read online comments before, you always take them with a grain of salt,” argued Andy Sellars, a staff attorney at Harvard University’s digital media law project. “I don’t think that person is making a specific allegation of embezzlement.”