A university professor denounced as a rapist on a “#MeToo” blog has been awarded £70,000 in compensation against the anonymous author.
Google was also ordered to remove the false allegations about Dr Paul Blackledge from its BlogSpot website.
The High Court heard that the posts were published under a pseudonym referencing the #MeToo movement and the University and College Union, of which the academic was a prominent member. The articles falsely alleged that Blackledge, an expert in politics and ethics, was guilty of rape as well as sustained bullying and the humiliation of his victims.
Mr Justice Saini told the author of the posts, who has not been identified, to pay damages for libel and harassment.
Blackledge had told the court that he could barely sleep as a result of the torment caused by the false allegations while many previously close contacts had stopped speaking to him completely. He said that the allegations, published between February and April last year, had “all but destroyed my career and my livelihood”.
The academic said that he had become withdrawn, was constantly worried that people he met had heard about the allegations and were simply not mentioning it, and that it had affected his wife and children.
The anonymous poster used Twitter to direct 26 leading journalists and academics to the posts. Emails were also sent containing links to the blogs.
A professor of politics and associate editor of a journal in which he had recently appeared tweeted an apology for publishing the piece as she “was just made aware of Paul Blackledge’s history of sexual assault”.
Blackledge had been invited to give a speech to the annual conference of the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry when he was called by the organiser, who said that the committee had been sent an email directing them to the blog, the court was told.
The judge said the academic had been the “victim of a campaign of online abuse” while his false accuser had “used the anonymity of the internet and social media to hide”. He added: “The facts of this case are a striking example of how the internet and social media can be used to abuse and damage innocent individuals with apparent impunity. The particular allegations made in this case are of sexual misconduct by [Blackledge] of the most grave kind against a number of women, described by the author as ‘survivors’.
“The nameless blogger has cynically used the #MeToo debate as part of their strategy. There can be little doubt that the allegations have caused the claimant and his family substantial personal distress and have had an adverse impact upon his professional standing in the academic community.”
Blackledge had taught politics at Leeds Metropolitan University between 1999 and 2017 and before moving to London South Bank University he worked at Northumbria University and Shanxi University, China.
Between 1999 and 2017 he was a member of the University and College Union and until 2015 a member of the Socialist Workers Party.
The judge said: “I am satisfied on the evidence that [Blackledge] has never committed any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape. I also accept that he was devastated by these false allegations and finds the very idea of sexual violence abhorrent.”
Students and those who work in his field were likely to search his name online and be directed to the false allegations, the judge said.
Blackledge is a prominent academic and widely published author whose books include Marxism and Ethics: Freedom, Desire, and Revolution and Friedrich Engels and Modern Social and Political Theory.
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