Vindictive bloggers who hide behind a cloak of anonymity may feel that they can use the internet to subject innocent people to abuse with complete impunity. However, in coming to the aid of an academic falsely accused of being a sexual predator, the High Court emphatically showed how very wrong they are.
The academic was the target of an anonymous online campaign accusing him of sexual misconduct of the most serious kind. An anonymous blogger had cynically used the #MeToo debate as part of their strategy. The impact on the academic was grave indeed: he was excluded from academic events, all but destroying his career and livelihood, and was so tormented that he could barely sleep. The link to #MeToo meant that institutions and individuals were pressured to immediately cut ties with him or be branded enablers of sexual misbehaviour.
After the academic launched libel proceedings, the blogger neither revealed their identity nor took any part in the proceedings. A default judgment was therefore entered against them. Following a hearing, the Court noted the relentless nature of the campaign and ordered the blogger to pay the academic £70,000 in damages. The award was designed to vindicate the latter’s good name and to reflect and signal the total falsity of the allegations against him.
The Court issued an injunction against the blogger, forbidding further publication of the same or similar defamatory allegations. Disobedience of that order would be a contempt of court, punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. The order was served via an email address to which the blogger was known to have access. Google was also ordered to remove the dedicated website that had been used by the blogger as a vehicle for the campaign.