A lawsuit filed in New York federal court
last week against the creator of the Shitty Media Men list and its
anonymous contributors exemplifies how individuals often misuse the
court system to unmask anonymous speakers and chill their speech.
Thats why were watching this case closely, and were prepared to
advocate for the First Amendment rights of the lists anonymous
On paper, the lawsuit is a defamation case brought by the writer
Stephen Elliott, who was named on the list. The Shitty Media Men
list was a Google spreadsheet shared via link and made editable by
anyone, making it particularly easy for anonymous speakers to share
their experiences with men identified on the list. But a review of
the complaint suggests that the lawsuit is focused more broadly on
retaliating against the lists creator, Moira Donegan, and publicly
identifying those who contributed to it.
For example, after naming several anonymous defendants as Jane
Does, the complaint stresses that Plaintiff will know, through
initial discovery, the names, email addresses, pseudonyms and/or
Internet handles used by Jane Doe Defendants to create the List,
enter information into the List, circulate the List, and otherwise
publish information in the List or publicize the List.
In other words, Elliott wants to obtain identifying information
about anyone and everyone who contributed to, distributed, or
called attention to the list, not just those who provided
information about Elliot specifically.
The First Amendment, however, protects anonymous speakers like
the contributors to the Shitty Media Men list, who were trying to
raise awareness about what they see as a pervasive problem:
predatory men in media. As the Supreme Court has ruled, anonymity is a historic and
essential way of speaking on matters of public concernit is a
shield against the tyranny of the majority.
Anonymity is particularly critical for
people who need to communicate honestly and openly without fear of
retribution. People rely on anonymity in a variety of contexts,
including reporting harassment, violence, and other abusive
behavior theyve experienced or witnessed. This was the exact
purpose behind the Shitty Media Men list. Donegan, who after
learning she would be identified as the creator of the list, came
forward and wrote that she wanted to create a place
for women to share their stories of harassment and assault