Pseudonymous blogging under subpoena threat

Come out, come out, whoever you are

Many webloggers like to post pseudonymously, but a legal threat on one of the most popular raises the question - for how much longer?

The impish Atrios, a pseudonymous and widely read Democratic weblogger has been threatened with a subpoena by right-wing columnist Donald Luskin.

Luskin is obsessed by the Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. On the "media infiltrations" page of his website, Luskin lists over 50 articles about Krugman in the past six months and a solicitation, "Krugman Truth Squad T-Shirts - Get One Now." One column headline boasts "We Stalked. He Balked - the Truth Squad is getting to Mr Krugman".

But when Atrios captioned a (characteristically terse) post about Luskin with the phrase "Diary of a Stalker", the columnist reached for his lawyer. Luskin objected to the caption and what he characterised as libelous comments made by posters to Atrios' Eschaton weblog.

Chillingly, the email threatens: "Determining your identity for the purpose of making service of process can be easily accomplished through a subpoena to Blogspot.com."

If Luskin serves his subpoena, as promised, within 72 hours, can Blogspot be trusted to keep Atrios' true identity private?

Blogspot.com is the weblog hosting service acquired by advertising franchise Google Inc. when it bought Blogger.com. Google saw an opportunity to kick start its budget classified ad service Adwords, using thousands of weblogs as billboards. It was a brilliant business move, right out of the vertical integration textbook, for Google's algorithms place weblogs very highly. Google has struggled to maintain the integrity of its search results ever since, with recent kludges blocking millions of results.

Although Blogspot doesn't ask for a user's identity, it would be instrumental in helping Luskin track down Atrios' real name. Once again, this is a test for how much we trust Google Inc. It certainly offers the burgeoning ad behemoth a chance to restore its tarnished reputation with webloggers.

And it proves, as if we didn't already know, that intimidation is a key weapon in the political discourse here today. ®

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