Writer and director Stephen Elliott requested a frankly staggering amount of personal information from Google, pursuant his defamation lawsuit against Moira Donegan, creator of the “Shitty Men in Media” list. This week, Google responded with a gloriously hard pass.
The list was a Google sheet that circulated for a few hours in October 2017; during its brief existence, women anonymously catalogued their experiences of sexual misconduct by over 70 men in the book, magazine, and digital publishing industry. Elliott’s entry included allegations of rape, sexual harassment, coercion, and general sleaziness. He has denied all of this, penning a very long and very tiresome essay on Quillette entitled, “How an Anonymous Accusation Derailed My Life.”
In an essay published on the Cut in January 2018, Donegan identified herself as the creator of the list, amid rumors that Katie Roiphe would reveal her name in a forthcoming article for Harper’s. In October, Elliott filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against her and 30 “Jane Does,” contending libel and emotional distress, although Donegan estimates she took down the spreadsheet about 12 hours after initially posting it.
On Thursday, we learned that Elliott’s attorneys had not only requested that Google turn over every draft of the document, but also, that the company disclose the identities of every person who edited the list, looked at it, emailed about it, and contributed to Elliott’s entry. In a letter dated Wednesday, January 23, however, the firm representing Google LLC — Perkins Cole — reiterated a stance the company took when Elliott first filed his lawsuit, which is that Google has no intention of helping him.
In the memo, obtained by the Cut, attorney Randy Tyler counts the ways in which Elliott’s request is “objectionable,” “invalid,” “overbroad,” and “unduly burdensome.” For starters, Elliott would need to provide Google with concrete information — like a Gmail address or a Google Drive URL — identifying the content in question. But even if he did that, “Google does not preserve information in the absence of valid legal process and is aware of no rules requiring third-parties to honor informal preservation requests,” the letter states. If Elliott wants that information, he would have to ask the original account holder, who — as Tyler points out — is named in his lawsuit. But even faced with a subpoena or a court order, Google would only acquiesce to disclosure requests that are consistent with the federal Stored Information Act and do not violate its users’ right to anonymous speech.
In a letter dated January 24 (reviewed by the Cut), Elliott’s attorney — Andrew Miltenberg — disputed Donegan’s previous request to stay the expedited discover of Google metadata, but made no mention of the fact that Google had already shot him down. “The early discovery Plaintiff seeks is from Google, and does not impose any burden on Donegan. The purpose of the discovery is to unmask the Jane Doe defendants,” Miltenberg writes. “There is ‘good cause’ for early discovery as Plaintiff is unable to identify Jane Doe Defendants absent the court-ordered subpoena.”
In a follow-up letter to Judge Sanket Bulsara on Friday, Donegan’s attorney, Robbie Kaplan, pointed out that Google metadata would of course implicate Donegan and her account history. She also expressed surprise that Miltenberg had failed to mention that Google had just rejected the idea.
In a previous interview with the Cut, Kaplan pointed out that Elliott’s defamation argument would arguably be rendered moot by his simultaneous hunt for the people who actually added allegations against him to the list: It’s basically a tacit admission that Donegan wasn’t the one “defaming” him. “The case is not actually to succeed against my client, or maybe not even to go forward with the case at all, but to file it to send a strong message to other women that if you do this you will be sued,” she mused, adding that contributors, or even viewers, feeling freaked by Elliott’s wide net shouldn’t be frightened. “Time’s Up [the legal defense fund for women dealing with sex-based discrimination] has your back, and if you feel scared, get in touch with us.”