The Internet makes many feel like they are untouchable. And sharing the same social networks with celebrities and public figures gives us unprecedented access to them. Some users, however, misuse the likes of Twitter and Facebook to attack and abuse people they’ve never even met.
An ongoing legal dispute between actor James Woods and a pseudonymous Twitter user could change all that by removing the shield of anonymity that online trolls hide behind.
The Oscar-nominated star of Salvador and The Hard Way is currently pursuing a defamation lawsuit against a Twitter user who Woods claims has been calling him a “cocaine addict.”
Woods did not take kindly to the comment. Not only does the actor want to expose his abuser’s identity, he is also also seeking $10 million worth of damages.
The accused — who has thus far maintained his anonymity by sending a lawyer to court on his behalf — goes by the name of Abe List (@abelisted) online, reports The New York Times. Meanwhile, Twitter has declined to identify the individual to Woods’ lawyers on the basis of the First Amendment.
That could all potentially change now that presiding Judge Mel Recana has denied a motion filed by Abe List’s lawyers this week to strike the case. Consequently, Woods now has the go-ahead to continue with the lawsuit against Abe List with a view to unmasking his identity.
Woods himself is an extremely outspoken Twitter user, often using the platform to disseminate his conservative views on topics ranging from Barack Obama to Planned Parenthood.
Woods’ statements concerning the latter were central to the statement that kicked off the dispute between the two parties. Back in July 2015, Woods tweeted: “USATODAY app features Bruce Jenner’s latest dress selection, but makes zero mention of Planned Parenthood baby parts market.” To which List reportedly replied: “cocaine addict James Woods still sniffing and spouting.”
List’s tweeted response is now pivotal to the case. Woods’ lawyers have submitted a declaration from a linguistics professor at the University of Southern California who determined that most readers of “cocaine addict” would understand and interpret it to be a factual statement. Despite claims to the contrary from List’s attorneys — who insist that the tweet in question was not “meant to be taken literally” — the latest motion means that the defamation lawsuit can continue unabated.
In an ironic turn of events, List has set his Twitter account to private fearing online abuse as a result of the highly publicized case. Reports indicate that List is a Harvard-educated partner at an L.A.-based private equity firm.
“The cruelty of having one’s reputation sullied by an anonymous coward is agonizing,” Mr. Woods said in a statement provided by his lawyer. “Twitter users beware: You are not above the law.”