Online attacks on individuals and organizations can have far-reaching and serious effects. Not merely incidences of questionable behavior, at their worst attacks can cause stress disorders in their victims and result in reputational and economic harm that’s difficult to undo.
But for some targets, simply being able to identify and publicly reveal their attacker is enough.
That’s what happened in the case of model Liskula Cohen. In 2009 Cohen was labeled “skanky” and a “ho” by an anonymous blogger using Google’s Blogger platform. She sued, determined to find out who made the disparaging remarks, and a judge ordered Google to hand over the blogger’s IP address, leading to the identification of the individual. (Cohen subsequently dropped her lawsuit, which led some members of the legal community to accuse her of having abused the legal process by filing suit simply to determine the identity of her attacker, while others supported her action as a practical realization that she had been vindicated in the public arena).
Sports writer Jeff Pearlman, meanwhile, decided to track down and confront his Twitter detractors on his own. He wrote about his experience in Tracking down my online haters, noting that “when journalists take the time to respond personally to venomous notes, proving that they are made of flesh and blood, the reaction is strikingly — and puzzlingly — positive.” (Read the response from one of the Twitter detractors, as well as further analysis of the entire situation, here.)
And perhaps therein lies a part of the solution to the problem: putting a human face on the targets and requiring accountability from their attackers.