Fighting Defamation: How Law Firms Identify Anonymous Internet Users

June 8, 2021

Finding negative online content about yourself is extremely distressing. This effect can be amplified if you don’t know the identity of the person targeting you. The internet has made it easy for anonymous internet users to voice their grievances through the use of pseudonyms. But using an alias does not necessarily protect an anonymous person’s identity from being discovered. If you are being attacked and harassed online by an anonymous person and you want it to stop, KJK’s attorneys can help. We have experienced content removal attorneys with the knowledge and tools necessary to help identify anonymous online actors so that you can gain control over your online reputation. If you are a victim of negative online content, you should explore the following issues:

Why do people hide their identities online?

There are numerous reasons why people hide their identities online. Sometimes, it has to do with maintaining personal privacy for protection. Unfortunately, far too often internet users utilize anonymity as a springboard to engage in unlawful and even criminal activity. Here are some common examples of unlawful and criminal activity we see occurring from anonymous actors online:

  • Internet Defamation
  • Cyber-Harassment
  • Copyright Infringement
  • Publication of Fake Reviews
  • Hacking Cloud-Based Storage Albums or Webcams to Release Private Content
  • The Publication of Private, Intimate Photographs (also known as Revenge Porn)
  • Threats of Extortion or Sextortion
  • Impersonation
  • Cyber-Squatting Domain Names

Why is it important to identify an anonymous online actor?

If you don’t identify the online actor targeting you online, it will be extremely difficult to get them to stop. Identifying an anonymous attacker forces them to be accountable for their actions or face repercussions. While you can attain a court order to remove content published by an anonymous actor without discovering their identity, you will have no way to prevent this person from publishing more content in the future. You also won’t be able to attain damages. If you want to stop an online attack, it’s best to stop the attack at its source by unmasking this person’s identity.

What tools will an attorney use to help identify anonymous internet users?

There is no set roadmap to identify an anonymous online actor. We use a wide variety of tools to attempt to ascertain an identity so that you can seek legal recourse. Our work often involves a combination of one or more of the following techniques:

Tailored Google Searches

While conducting a Google search may seem obvious, it cannot be downplayed as a method of identifying an anonymous online actor. Sometimes, a simple Google search can yield important clues that can lead to an identity. An attorney will search any information you might have about your attacker, including email addresses, social handles or aliases.

Reverse Image searching

Reverse image searching is a search technique that can be utilized to identify the various locations an image exists on the internet. This can be an effective method of gauging the original source of a photo.  Reverse image searching can also yield identifying information about anonymous actors. Conducting a reverse image search of an attacker’s profile picture sometimes leads to other social media accounts or photo albums containing more information about this person’s identity.

While you can conduct a reverse image search on Google yourself, an attorney may have access to additional paid software such as PIMeyes that can search the Internet for photos similar to the one of your anonymous online attacker. Through the utilization of facial recognition software, other photographs of the person pictured in a profile image can be identified. As this technology continues to evolve and improve, it becomes easier to connect a photo to other social accounts and websites.

Directory Site Searches

Directory sites like Spokeo.com, Mylife.com and Peoplefinder.com gather information from publicly available sources and publish them on their websites. Sometimes, typing a phone number or an email address into these websites will lead to a full public record and assist in identifying your anonymous person.

Attorneys may also utilize additional paid search software such as TLOx to assist in identifying an anonymous attacker. This program includes known aliases and social profiles.

Browse Public Records

Public records searches can often yield identifying information. This can include copyright, trademark and patent registrations, business operation searches, court records, sex offender registries and more.

Trace IP Addresses

The methods of identifying an anonymous person will depend on what pieces of information you have about the anonymous person attacking you online. Sometimes, you might only have an Internet Protocol (IP) address. IP addresses encompass a specific digital paper trail that often reveals important information about the person who utilized it. Domain Lookup websites like https://whois.domaintools.com/, infosniper.com, and whatismyipaddress.com can help an investigator ascertain the Internet Service Provider associated with that IP address, the geolocation of that IP address and more. This information is extremely important to identify anonymous actors.

Utilize a DMCA subpoena

U.S. Copyright Law  allows a copyright holder being attacked by an anonymous person to utilize a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) subpoena to attempt to unmask their attacker. A DMCA subpoena is a tool that can be used to identify an anonymous online actor who is infringing on a copyright without filing a lawsuit.

Conduct discovery after filing a John Doe lawsuit

Sometimes, the only way to identify an online actor is to file a John Doe lawsuit. A John Doe lawsuit is a lawsuit against an anonymous person. Through the discovery process in the lawsuit, an attorney will attempt to discover the identity of the anonymous person by sending subpoenas to the websites the anonymous person utilized for their attacks. Once an anonymous person’s IP address is discovered, it is easier to ascertain his or her identity.

Contact a Defamation Attorney Today

If you are being attacked anonymous internet users utilizing a fake internet profile, you can identify them and make them stop. Contact KJK  Internet Defamation and Content Removal attorney Ali Arko (ALA@kjk.com; 216.716.5642) for further information. An attorney can help you discover evidence, preserve data points, and attempt to discover the identities of people launching online attacks against you or your business.