On Friday, Brooklyn federal judge LaShann D. Hall expressed her doubts on the success of writer Stephen Elliott’s defamation suit against journalist Moira Donegan for a spreadsheet she posted on the internet titled “Shitty Media Men”. The “Shitty Media Men” list was a Google spreadsheet comprised of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct from anonymous sources. The list contained the names of over 70 men currently working in publishing and media. Stephen Elliott’s name appeared on the crowdsourced list in October of 2017. Anonymous contributors commented next to Elliott’s name: “Rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment, a dude who snuck into binders???” In the notes section of the list, Elliott was named as a man against whom “multiple women allege misconduct”.
Donegan, a columnist for the Guardian, said in a January 2018 article that she created the spreadsheet in October of 2017 as a way for women to protect themselves from sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. It was to remain private amongst women in the industry to serve as a warning and to use caution when working with the men named. Donegan took it down about 12 hours after it went viral.
Elliot claims the anonymous list ruined his life when the list went public on Reddit after Buzzfeed published an article about the list’s existence. He claims he now suffers from extreme depression and contemplation of suicide. The suit he filed last October sought $1.5 million in damages for defamation and infliction of emotional distress. In an essay Elliot published on Quillette he writes: “Being accused of sexual misconduct is extremely alienating” and “#MeToo was an expression of solidarity but there is no solidarity for the accused.”
Elliot’s lawyers conceded to dropping the counts for both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, leaving a sole claim for defamation. Judge Hall told Elliott’s lawyer that the defamation suit allegations he currently pled seemed deficient, but that he could amend the complaint. The fact that Stephen Elliott is a public figure adds a higher burden to his defamation claims.
Elliot’s claims have depended on social media posts from Donegan, including “I really hate men” and “I like the witch hunt.” Judge Hall has not been swayed by these posts, saying to Elliot’s lawyer “Let’s assume she hates men, for the sake of argument. I don’t see how you can go from her general hatred of men to a reasonable [accusation] of malice with regard to your client.” She also added: “Enjoying the witch hunt’ means she knows that the allegations are false and published them anyway? What if there’s an actual witch? We can all have our own beliefs as to whether witches exist.”
Also, the defamation suit has made waves among free speech advocates. Elliott sought an order that would force Google, Inc. to hand over “documents, computer data and information” that could be used to unmask the anonymous contributors to the list, here named as Jane Doe defendants in the suit. Judge Hall has said it would be unlikely that she would allow the limited discovery for the purpose of determining who the Jane Does are. Google has already expressed that they would “oppose any attempt by Mr. Elliott to obtain information about this document from us.”
Elliott has until March 8th to inform the court whether he will revise his complaint. If he does not, Donegan can file a motion to dismiss in two weeks. If he does amend his complaint, the case is expected to proceed in the spring.