Judge Orders Philly.com to Reveal Commenter’s Identity

Will the decision rein in the site’s notoriously toxic commenters?

In a decision that might give the heebie jeebies to Philly’s worst online commenters—and glee in the hearts of all who despise them,which is pretty much everybody else—a judge has ordered Philly.com to reveal the identity of an anonymous commenter who insulted prominent local union leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty. CBSPhilly has the goods:

The anonymous defendant in the suit, disguised by the nonsense name “fbpdplt,” called Dougherty a “pedophile” in the comments section of an article on the website, one of the properties in the media group that also owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

Dougherty’s attorney, Joe Podraza, argued the comment was defamation, not protected by either the federal or state constitution.

Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline Allen ruled in Dougherty’s favor, in a decision that Podraza says “has been a long time coming.”


“I think the court is sending a strong message to those who abuse the internet by defaming others and think they can get away with it by acting anonymously,” he told KYWnewsradio.

Jonathan Valania wrote about Philly.com's "unbelievably toxic" commenters for Philly Mag in July, noting: "On a good day, it’s bad. On a bad day, it’s vile. There are a lot of bad days on Philly.com." The next month, the Inquirer reported the site would be shifting to a new comment system aimed at addressing trolls. The system has changed, but the level of vitriol seems little contained.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • PlsDntSueMe

    Is John Dougherty a pedophile though?

  • http://www.philadelinquency.com Christopher Sawyer

    One can only hope that the commenter is some salty little old lady so Doc is faced with the choice of filing a DERP-fermation suit against someone who really can only afford Ms. Paul’s fishsticks.

    • PlsDntSueMe

      Guessing he would want to avoid the headline “John Dougherty Pedophile Trial”. I’m not a pedophile so I don’t know how a headline like that would make me feel.

  • Not My RealName

    And how does this change anything for the majority that sign up with fake info?

    • Veillantif

      The name you give Philly.com might be fake but the IP address isn’t.

      • http://www.classicyuppie.com/ John Fox

        Ever heard of proxies, public access VPN tunnels, wifi access points or Tor? There’s multiple ways to hide your identity online. There’s multiple ways to obfuscate your IP address/identity online. You might break the ToS on a website to do it, but at that point, who cares?

        • http://www.philadelinquency.com Christopher Sawyer

          But if the IP address points to a Comcast modem; the person who did it hasn’t much protection. See: RIAA/MPAA lawsuits. RIAA and MPAA would just sit on a file sharing systems like Napster and BitTorrent, see who was offering up material, participate in the file-sharing to collect IP addresses, and then start filing mass demands at the ISPs to get at the subscribers. You can thank Hollywood for busting down that wall. And yes, using (always the latest version of) TOR dramatically raises the cost it takes to hunt down the subscriber so if you’re gonna do hateful shit like this, at least cover your ass.

        • Veillantif

          Right. Maybe “fbpdplt” had the foresight to anticipate Johnny Doc suing him and took these precautions, but I doubt it.

        • USMCGY

          Point well taken & Philly com & other public sites should have moderators to monitor the input, if not, don’t have a comment section.

  • http://www.philadelinquency.com Christopher Sawyer

    I’m a victim of a frivolous defamation SLAPP suit that’s going on in Federal court right now against me. But I know my First Amendment quite well. Doc doesn’t stand a chance in succeeding: 1) Doc is a public figure, which raises the bar far higher for defamation plaintiffs. 2) Doc has to show the courts that he has suffered injuries which a defamation tort can provide relief, otherwise he has no basis for a suit. 3) The comment has to be believable by reasonable people if it’s a maliciously-false statement said or written with actual malice, and the plaintiff has to also show that the malice was intentional.

    In the Miss America lawsuit Donald Trump filed, Trump was able to get over all these hurdles because the comments about Miss America being rigged could actually be connected to damages to the Pageant and reasonable people would take the claims that the Pageant is rigged seriously and accept it as factual. “Johnny doc is a pedo” doesn’t meet any of those conditions. PhillyMag could even put up an online poll: “Do you honestly believe after reading this online comment that the business manager for IBEW Local 98 is a pedophile?” and see how it turns out. I know… I’ll put one up on Philadelinquency and get it going.

    • USMCGY

      Christopher: While you make valid points, Mr Dougherty imo just wants the identiy of this commenter known to him. Will he win a defamation suit, who knows, but he & his attorney have already succeeded in having having a Judge order Philly.com to reveal the identity of the anonymous commenter. That in itself is a very productive hurdle to overcome within the courts.

      • http://www.philadelinquency.com Christopher Sawyer

        No, not in Common Pleas court. Anyone can file a pre-discovery complaint motion to the Court to demand an IP address be turned over. This is prior to the ACTUAL defamation case that may or may not turn up. I don’t think the Court actually cares whether or not the plaintiff actually seeks to file the actual complaint after the subsriber who used the IP address is revealed. If you pay the couple hundred bucks to file the paperwork, you can order VZN and Comcast to turn over the subscriber data to anybody in Pennsylvania. This precedent was actually set a long time ago when MPAA/RIAA bulk-filing lawsuits were flooding courts everywhere–that’s the strategy they used to get at the ISP subscribers.

        • USMCGY

          You can file all the pre-discovery complaints you want Christopher. That does not mean a judge will grant you access to that information, in this case, Judge Allen has ruled not only the discovery challenge in his favor but that Dougherty can continue with his defamation suit.

  • PlsDntSueMe

    Why did you delete my comment? Is it because I didn’t start it out with, “First of all cocksucker, I work for SEPTA”? Grow some balls over there.

    • Jane Yavis

      Case in point for someone ashamed of either his post or name,,,,,- thinking this is free speech.

      • Jack Levitt

        Where does the Constitution only grant the right of free speech to folks that have properly identified themselves to your standards?

        • Jane Yavis

          The same place it identifies the standards people choose to follow their version of the Constitution. Free speech isn’t free reign to harm people’s livlihood, Lies and Accusations such as these do just that.

  • SRVES339

    Why not just ask an NSA contractor?

  • JeffWest

    Philly.com’s comments section is a sewer, and some anonymous troll calling Dougherty a pedophile, while obviously false, is the least offensive of the comments there. You should see what they say about Obama.

    • Jack Levitt

      Can you prove what they say about President Obama isn’t true?

      • JeffWest

        If any of that crap were true (born in Kenya, a Communist, on and on) it certainly would have been proven conclusively over the past six years. God knows millions have been spent to “expose” Obama. And there’s nothing. That’s why you phrased your question like that –because, no, you can’t logically prove a negative, and you have no evidence that the commenters’ moronic and slanderous comments about Obama contain any damning evidence.

    • wildmother

      wildmother • a few seconds ago

      Philadelphia Speaks and most news has trolled me viciously for years because I reported accurate demolition without permits, strings of crimes, political retaliation by Seth Williams and his closet friends. Cover up of environmental crimes by the political leadership of the NW. Plus the lies that came forward in City Council and the DA office and City Planning when they were trying to pretend they didn’t know anything about demolition. I have prove they knew plenty plus the highest leaders in the city have allowed and committed construction crimes worse than the one at Market Street, although the death toll at Market was worse, the actual construction ‘wrongs’ were far less than elsewhere. Alan Greenburger and City Planning has had great demolition and safety measures handed to them for years by both Baltimore and myself. City Council has deliberately and maliciously launched years of hate crimes and civil rights violations, assaults and worse for years against me because I reported and tried to get the to clean up and do a better and safer job on their cronyism development projects. The DA and City Council were last people qualified to investigate the Market Street tragedy . I been watching them cast the blame everywhere except where it really belonged- their own long history of deliberately destroying and even killing lives with their deals with politically connected developers. I have proof that everything they were blaming everyone else for at Market Street , they have done them self and worse. Because I knew and collected the evidence of their felonies and crimes, City Council, the DA , police and more launched years of hate crimes and worse against me. Much of the trolling showed up on Philadelphia Speaks. Even to the point of public announcements that I should be raped. When I asked the staff attorney for Anne Verne to stand up and say ‘Stop hurting that woman.” He refused. All of City Council and City Planning and DA office have refused to stop years of crimes toward me and crimes done on a contaminated townhouse project site put together by the leader of the 9th ward democratic committee. I have been terrorized deliberately for years, exposed to deadly haz mat, displaced from my home and suffer extreme PTSD and physical injury from these deliberately launched hate crimes sponsored by the top politicians and lawyers in this city. I have repeatedly asked for Mediated Restorative Justice and been met with more abuse. If the problems I was reporting and the solutions to safer building I was offering and which were also given to City Planning at various meetings were addressed and rectified and LEARNED from, those deaths at Market Street would not have happened. The Press has played a large part in this tragedy by never investigating or being honest about the story and evidence I gave them. The press colluded with the politics and allowed these tragedies to happened along with every other attempt at cover up.

  • backliner

    Look out Harry Reid !

  • Jason

    welcome to the internet. deal with it.

    I cant believe we live in a society these days where this could happen. I am usually against the whole Muh Freedoms argument, but this is not Russia. we reserve the right to be who we are, even if it means we are vile, potty mouths

  • Ted John Noga

    Is he a pedophile? Makes me worried, maybe he is? Anyone have any proof he’s a pedophile? None-the-less in my opinion he’s clearly a jerk. Since my name is right here, he doesn’t need a court order to find out who posted this.

    • USMCGY

      He needs the name & address of his/her residence verified to serve this person(s) with a defamation lawsuit, which a judge has granted to proceed. While I’m no fan of Mr Dougherty, I am interested on how this case will proceed in the courts.

    • tarracali

      Your calling the plaintiff a jerk is not accusing him of a criminal act. The defendant’s act of calling the guy a pedophile is accusing him of being a criminal. I understand the difference.

      • Ted John Noga

        What difference? Some people might think that anyone that looks at a child is a pedo. I have yet to see any law in the us that makes being a pedo illegal. It isn’t illegal! You can be a pedophile all you want, you just cant molest or have sex with children. That’s illegal.
        Oh the english language and peoples lack of understanding. If you thought brooke shields was hot or Britney spears was hot, people may think you’re a pedophile. Again not illegal.

        • tarracali

          You are engaging in a legal quibble. Any reasonable person who read the defendant’s comment would rationally conclude that the defendant meant to say the plaintiff had engaged in illegal sexual activities with a child or children. However, no reasonable person would have read the comment and believed it.

          • Ted John Noga

            Um, the law is legal. IT not quibble. Pedophilia is not illegal. So he wasn’t accusing anyone of committing a crime. Words have meaning, just because you or someone else wants a word to mean something other than its true definition, doesn’t make it so.

          • tarracali

            Your argument is a classic legal quibble. The defendant called the plaintiff a pedophile. Any reasonable person, including a judge or a juror, would come to the reasonable conclusion that the defendant intended to give people the impression that the plaintiff had engaged in illegal sexual relations with children. If I was a juror on this case that would be my conclusion, and I am a reasonable person. However I, as a reasonable person, do not believe the plaintiff is a pedophile. Therefore the plaintiff was not harmed by the accusation as far as my opinion of the plaintiff is concerned.

          • Ted John Noga

            Impression means nothing. Did he say that the defendant engaged in illegal sexual relations with a child or children? The answer is NO. You would have to prove that calling the plaintiff a pedophile, not a criminal, caused damage, we all know the answer to that is no. Also if the person said he was a pedophile based, say if he engaged in sex with a developed 14 year old teenager, the accusation of pedophile ,based solely on that ,would be wrong and untruthful because pedophile has a definition.. Pedophilia or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger; as a medical diagnosis, specific criteria for the disorder extends the cut-off point for prepubescence to age 13 Words have meaning and if you are using or interpreting a word incorrectly that’s on you not the person saying it or reading it.

          • tarracali

            In American vernacular the word pedophile is used to describe a person who engages in illegal sexual acts with children. The vast majority of Americans would use that word in that context. Words do have meaning and in American society the word pedophile is used as a synonym for child molester.

          • Ted John Noga

            No it does not. Never has.

  • ICDogg

    There are a lot of jerk commenters on lots of sites, but who cares? If you start using the court system to intimidate people from saying jerky things, then you are a bully.

  • KobraKai7474

    For a moment, let’s accept the silly premise that the above-discussed comment was indeed defamatory to John Dougherty. What would the damages be? Perhaps, it could be proven that a couple of people who post on the Philly.com comment section actually read the comment, but you would be hard pressed to show that, even one of those very few people actually took it seriously. So how does that damage anybody? Johnny Doc is going to spend a million dollars on lawyer fees to get a ten cent settlement…. if he wins. And all he will really accomplish is making sure that many, many, many more people become aware of a silly offhand comment made by some dude deep in the bowels of the comment section of Philly.com that would otherwise have been buried and never seen again.

    • Jack Levitt

      When the person who posted the comment is identified, the lawsuit will disappear and the person will be subjected to massive union member harassment and possibly physical assault. That is the only goal here, not clearing the suspected pedophiles name or getting a $0.10 settlement.

      • Jane Yavis

        You honestly think a parrot who chirps the standard “It’s those Unions fault anyway” should be taken seriously. Good Heavens -

  • Gerard Plourde

    Article I Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution says this about free expression -

    “The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.”

    Part of being responsible for that liberty is being called to account for statements that damage a person’s reputation.

    As for the statement made about Mr. Dougherty – I think that it’s possible that he could make a case that would meet the high threshold of NYT v. Sullivan. (False statement made knowing that it is false and made with actual malice)

    • ICDogg

      But one prong of that is to show that some anonymous whack job with no credibility calling another person vile names is damaging to the latter’s reputation.

      • Gerard Plourde

        True. I think accusing someone of being a pedophile qualifies.

        • ICDogg

          Not if people aren’t at all likely to believe it when they read it. Who takes a random guy named “fbpdplt” as anything resembling credible? And if they don’t take him seriously, how does it affect the guy’s reputation?

          • Jack Levitt

            The bottom line is the union thugs want to unmask this persons identity so they can launch a full scale union style war against them. This absurd lawsuit is the only way they can get their victims identity to get the train rolling.

          • ICDogg

            Whether this is the case or not, they sure are making it look that way.

        • Jack Levitt

          Are we sure John Dougherty has been paying federal income taxes? According to a trusted source very close to Senate leader Harry Reid, he hasn’t filed in the last ten years and should be made to prove that he is in full compliance with our federal tax laws.

          • Gerard Plourde

            Not sure what that has to do with a defamation suit filed in state court or with the issue of disclosing the name of the individual who made the alleged defamatory statement.

      • The Duke

        George W Bush is a private citizen now and people call him a lot worse things online. Even say he is a war criminal and should be arrested too.

        • ICDogg

          Yeah, and I don’t see W suing anyone for it. Nor should he.

    • Nfl All Day

      Freedom of speach protect citizens from repercussion for speaking out against governments and other powerful entities that might otherwise seek retribution against the little guy. It does not give people the right to say any old crazy sh%t they want. Too often misunderstood in this country.

  • Jane Yavis

    Joel, to call someone a pedophile is a little more than an insult. Maybe Johnny Doc could anonymously take a guess at who the crumb is, and name him. Then the real crumb can come to his defense????

    Philly.com is very selective on what they post, and on many days, it seems only the most toxic make it thru the system.

  • Jack Levitt

    Can this John Dougherty fellow prove he isn’t a pedophile? According to a very trusted source close to Senate leader Harry Reid, he is and should be made to prove he isn’t or wear the badge proudly.

  • Bill Fairweather

    I think being referred to as a union official is more damaging to his reputation than being called a pedophile. Perhaps the pedophiles ought to bring suit as well.

  • wildmother

    Philadelphia Speaks and most news has trolled me viciously for years because I reported accurate demolition without permits, strings of crimes, political retaliation by Seth Williams and his closet friends. Cover up of environmental crimes by the political leadership of the NW. Plus the lies that came forward in City Council and the DA office and City Planning when they were trying to pretend they didn’t know anything about demolition. I have prove they knew plenty plus the highest leaders in the city have allowed and committed construction crimes worse than the one at Market Street, although the death toll at Market was worse, the actual construction ‘wrongs’ were far less than elsewhere. Alan Greenburger and City Planning has had great demolition and safety measures handed to them for years by both Baltimore and myself. City Council has deliberately and maliciously launched years of hate crimes and civil rights violations, assaults and worse for years against me because I reported and tried to get the to clean up and do a better and safer job on their cronyism development projects. The DA and City Council were last people qualified to investigate the Market Street tragedy . I been watching them cast the blame everywhere except where it really belonged- their own long history of deliberately destroying and even killing lives with their deals with politically connected developers. I have proof that everything they were blaming everyone else for at Market Street , they have done them self and worse. Because I knew and collected the evidence of their felonies and crimes, City Council, the DA , police and more launched years of hate crimes and worse against me. Much of the trolling showed up on Philadelphia Speaks. Even to the point of public announcements that I should be raped. When I asked the staff attorney for Anne Verne to stand up and say ‘Stop hurting that woman.” He refused. All of City Council and City Planning and DA office have refused to stop years of crimes toward me and crimes done on a contaminated townhouse project site put together by the leader of the 9th ward democratic committee. I have been terrorized deliberately for years, exposed to deadly haz mat, displaced from my home and suffer extreme PTSD and physical injury from these deliberately launched hate crimes sponsored by the top politicians and lawyers in this city. I have repeatedly asked for Mediated Restorative Justice and been met with more abuse. If the problems I was reporting and the solutions to safer building I was offering and which were also given to City Planning at various meetings were addressed and rectified and LEARNED from, those deaths at Market Street would not have happened. The Press has played a large part in this tragedy by never investigating or being honest about the story and evidence I gave them. The press colluded with the politics and allowed these tragedies to happened along with every other attempt at cover up.

  • wildmother

    wildmother • a few seconds ago
    Philadelphia Speaks and most news has trolled me viciously for years because I reported accurate demolition without permits, strings of crimes, political retaliation by Seth Williams and his closet friends. Cover up of environmental crimes by the political leadership of the NW. Plus the lies that came forward in City Council and the DA office and City Planning when they were trying to pretend they didn’t know anything about demolition. I have prove they knew plenty plus the highest leaders in the city have allowed and committed construction crimes worse than the one at Market Street, although the death toll at Market was worse, the actual construction ‘wrongs’ were far less than elsewhere. Alan Greenburger and City Planning has had great demolition and safety measures handed to them for years by both Baltimore and myself. City Council has deliberately and maliciously launched years of hate crimes and civil rights violations, assaults and worse for years against me because I reported and tried to get the to clean up and do a better and safer job on their cronyism development projects. The DA and City Council were last people qualified to investigate the Market Street tragedy . I been watching them cast the blame everywhere except where it really belonged- their own long history of deliberately destroying and even killing lives with their deals with politically connected developers. I have proof that everything they were blaming everyone else for at Market Street , they have done them self and worse. Because I knew and collected the evidence of their felonies and crimes, City Council, the DA , police and more launched years of hate crimes and worse against me. Much of the trolling showed up on Philadelphia Speaks. Even to the point of public announcements that I should be raped. When I asked the staff attorney for Anne Verne to stand up and say ‘Stop hurting that woman.” He refused. All of City Council and City Planning and DA office have refused to stop years of crimes toward me and crimes done on a contaminated townhouse project site put together by the leader of the 9th ward democratic committee. I have been terrorized deliberately for years, exposed to deadly haz mat, displaced from my home and suffer extreme PTSD and physical injury from these deliberately launched hate crimes sponsored by the top politicians and lawyers in this city. I have repeatedly asked for Mediated Restorative Justice and been met with more abuse. If the problems I was reporting and the solutions to safer building I was offering and which were also given to City Planning at various meetings were addressed and rectified and LEARNED from, those deaths at Market Street would not have happened. The Press has played a large part in this tragedy by never investigating or being honest about the story and evidence I gave them. The press colluded with the politics and allowed these tragedies to happened along with every other attempt at cover up.

  • PaulAlanLevy

    Actually, “the court” was not sending ANY message; as shown by a link from this blog post, the court’s order gave no reasoning. http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2014/03/philadelphia-ruling-outing-anonymous-critic-who-called-plaintiff-a-pedophile.html. And in any event, the ruling was really par for the court; what you have here is the plaintiff’s lawyer blowing his horn about how important his case is, and a credulous radio report giving his claim undue weight

  • Stephanie

    It raises the bar, But he can get them on actual Malice. Dougherty was defamed. He has a good chance of winning. Getting that IP and the person who posted that is key.
    I am so glad the judge is allowing the identity on the person

    I admire Dougherty