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This Article provides an overview of the evolution of defamation causes of action in an increasingly online era and focuses on successful discovery of anonymous online defamers. After the recent Illinois Supreme Court case of Hadley v. Doe (2015), there are unique Illinois discovery tools that attorneys may use to identify anonymous or unidentified defendants according to Supreme Court Rule 224 and 735 ILCS § 5/2-402. The Article begins with the landscape of federal law preemption of state law according to the Communications Decency Act's "Good Samaritan" provisions in Section 230 and explains why Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") and social media websites are not historically liable for online defamation according to federal law. As a result, state law causes of action for defamation are the key for discovery of their online identities and for successful recovery against the alleged online anonymous defamers. This Article focuses on the Illinois defamation law norms and fruitful pre-suit discovery tools in light of Hadley v. Doe. These valuable facets of Illinois procedure might also be more generally useful and applicable in a variety of contexts when there might be anonymous or unidentifiable defendants for civil causes of action; thus, attorneys who practice in Illinois should carefully evaluate their utility as discovery mechanisms in other types of civil actions.

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College of Law






Northern Illinois University Law Review

Suggested Citation

Heidi Frostestad Kuehl, Free Speech and Defamation in an Era of Social Media: An Analysis of Federal and Illinois Norms in the Context of Anonymous Online Defamers, 36 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 28 (2016).

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