The journalist behind the “s****y media men” list, which documented a range of allegations from sexual assault to general misconduct, could end up going to trial for defamation after a judge denied a motion for immunity.
Moira Donegan, 32, created the online spreadsheet during the #MeToo movement in 2017. She was sued by journalist Stephen Elliott for defamation after the list included allegations of rape, sexual harassment, and “coercion” against him.
Mr Elliot’s lawsuit states that the claims are “false” and “unsubstantiated”.
Roberta Kaplan, Ms Donegan’s lawyer, asked for immunity for her client under a law that protects social media users hosting or republishing information from being held accountable for what others post.
US District Court Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall rejected the request in an order on Thursday, saying that Ms Donegan’s testimony and “vague” memories of the document didn’t “rule out” that she could have encouraged others to publish posts in violation of the law , according to DailyMail.com.
While this means that the case could still go to trial, it could also be solved by the judge on “other grounds”.
Before it was taken down, more than 70 men appeared on the list. Mr Elliott is seeking $1.5m in damages. He appears to be the only one of the men listed who has sued Ms Donegan.
Mr Elliott sued Ms Donegan in 2017, alongside at least 30 co-defendants, accusing them of knowingly publishing inaccurate allegations against him.
He argues that he “became extremely depressed” and that he “enrolled in therapy while actively contemplating suicide”.
He said he faced isolation from “employers, colleagues, business associates, friends and family members” after facing allegations of “being a rapist”.
Ms Donegan said in an affidavit that she didn’t “solicit or encourage anyone to add false statements or false misconduct allegations”. Her attorney de ella has also said that since her client did not know Mr Elliott, she could not have encouraged false allegations against him.
“Unfortunately, Defendant offers no authority for this proposition and the court has found none,” Judge DeArcy Hall wrote.
“Rather than providing facts regarding her communications with respect to the Spreadsheet, Defendant’s testimony simply highlights that she does not recall what she said or wrote to others regarding the Spreadsheet,” she added.
“Defendant’s inability to recall the contents of her communications leaves open the possibility that Defendant did specifically encourage the posting of unlawful content,” the judge wrote in the 17-page order.
Mr Elliott alleged in his complaint that the people who added the information about him to the spreadsheet knew the allegations to be false.
“The List contained false information and unsubstantiated allegations, including untrue statements alleging Plaintiff engaged in criminal sexual conduct, namely rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion and unsolicited invitations to his apartment,” the complaint says.
“The inflammatory false statements published in the List were abusive, vulgar, intentionally misleading as well as damning to the Plaintiff’s reputation and good name. The List was sent to numerous members of the parties’ shared profession, the media industry to intentionally harm Plaintiff’s reputation and further cause harm to Plaintiff’s career, ”the legal filing states.
Mr Elliott’s lawyer Nick Lewis told Politician that the judge’s ruling is “both a significant win for Mr Elliott in his unflinching quest to obtain the truth and restore his reputation as well as a crucial check on the improper expansion of Section 230 to protect a co-conspirator’s encouragement of an anonymous online sniping , without proof or consequence”.
The Independent has reached out to Ms Kaplan for comment.