Internet bullies, listen up. If a New York court ruling is any indication, your cloak of anonymity may be more transparent than you think.
In August, Carla Franklin, 34, a New York business consultant and Columbia Business School graduate, filed legal documents asking Google to identify people who posted unauthorized videos of her on YouTube and made disparaging comments.
This week, she scored a victory. A Manhattan judge ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to turn over identity and contact information for the person or persons who posted the videos and insults online.
A Google spokesman declined to comment, saying that the company does not discuss individual cases. But Franklin said that the court ruling gives Google a couple of weeks to give her the IP (Internet protocol) addresses, e-mail addresses and other information of the users responsible for the harassment.
Internet Investigator to Help Link IP, E-Mail Addresses to Individual's Name
Once she has that information, Franklin said she plans to work with an investigator to track down the person she thinks is behind the online bullying.
"I'm so happy I'm finally going to be moving forward uncovering this person," she said in an interview with ABC News. "I feel so victorious. … It's definitely a weight lifted off of my shoulders. It's also a positive thing, in that people going through this type of defamation look at my case and they know, 'Wow, I can do this too.'"
Last year, while Franklin was interviewing for a new job, someone created a YouTube account displaying video clips of Franklin in a student production, her attorney David Fish said. Simultaneously, a YouTube user named "greyspector09" commented on a Columbia Business School YouTube video featuring Franklin and wrote defamatory comments next to clips of Franklin.
The YouTube channel and the comments have since been removed from the site, but Franklin said in her complaint to the court that the posts and comments "impute a lack of chastity," and the video damaged her business prospects and personal relationships.
"It was scary," Franklin told ABCNews.com. "I had enough and I just felt like what is next?"
She said she went to authorities, hoping to obtain a restraining order, but the police told her there was nothing they could do.
Scared for her safety and worried that the online slurs could harm her career prospects, she said she decided to take legal action.
Franklin: Internet Cannot Be Haven for Harassers
Franklin said she isn't looking for money or attention, she just wants to expose the person or persons behind her harassment and, she hopes, show other Internet bullies that there are real consequences to their virtual actions.
"The Internet cannot become a haven for harassers and criminals. It just can't," she said. "This is not about me trampling on anyone's First Amendment rights. Speak freely -- just show who you are. And if you're going to commit a crime, and harassment and defamation are crimes, then show yourself. "
Though she's open to the possibility that more than one person could be responsible for the bullying, she said that given the timing of it and other clues, she thinks it's someone she knows.
Franklin didn't elaborate on the relationship but said that her case is similar to other online harassment cases.
"Usually when someone's targeting you and you're not Beyonce or a huge celebrity, it's a jealous friend, it's an ex-husband, it's an ex-girlfriend," she said.
In a case that made headlines last summer, Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen successfully sued Google to uncover the name of an anonymous blogger who wrote the words "skanky," "ho" and "whoring" beneath her online photographs. When Google disclosed the IP address, Cohen learned that the blogger was an acquaintance of hers.
Assuming Franklin is able to identify the person who posted the harmful content about her, she said she hasn't fully decided on her course of action, but knows that she'll file a restraining order.
Cyber harassment has "gotten out of control," she said, adding that she hopes her case makes it easier for others to hold Internet bullies responsible for their harm.
"This is just a new frontier," she said. "The laws must catch up with what a marginal few fringe people are doing."