Late last year, an anonymous reader left a comment on the website XOJane claiming that she’d been raped by a rock star 10 years ago, when she was 16 and a virgin. She later went on to name that accused rock star: Conor Oberst, then touring with Bright Eyes. That commenter never discussed pressing charges or even announced her own identity, but she did briefly start a Tumblr about it before deleting both that Tumblr and her original comments. Oberst’s publicists issued a statement categorically denying that he’d done anything of the sort and claiming that he was considering pursuing legal action against her. The commenter’s identity eventually came out, and now Oberst is doing exactly what he said he would, filing a defamation lawsuit against the woman in New York federal court. In the suit, as the Associated Press reports, Oberst complains that the comments, and the media coverage of it, have “damaged his career, especially in New York where most of the major music publishing houses are headquartered.” But in a statement, he claims that the suit isn’t for monetary purposes, even though he’s seeking monetary damages; he says that he’ll donate any winnings to charity. Here’s the statement:
Today Conor Oberst filed a libel lawsuit in a New York federal court against Joanie Faircloth, a resident of North Carolina, who falsely accused him of rape in the comments section of the xoJane website in December of 2013 and again, some days later, on her Tumblr page. The suit counters Faircloth’s baseless allegations and states that Oberst never had any physical contact with her, either at the concert in Durham, NC at which she claims the attack took place, or at any other time. The only connection between Oberst and Faircloth was one of artist and fan – a fan who has posted laudatory comments about Oberst elsewhere online, including describing attending his band’s concert as the “Best memory ever!”
The lawsuit filed today outlines Faircloth’s history of inventing stories and personalities online in order to gain attention. Although her false statements about Oberst have since been deleted from the locations where they were initially posted online, Oberst’s suit alleges that her malicious lies spread across the Internet and are archived by multiple blogs. Through his attorneys, Oberst requested that Faircloth recant her false accusations, but she ignored the requests. Oberst has thus been forced to proceed with this libel suit in order to set the record straight and to clear his name.
Oberst is seeking to promote the truth and repair the distress this has brought upon him and his family. Oberst intends to donate the proceeds of this suit to charities benefitting the victims of violence against women.
I’m no legal expert, but doesn’t this lawsuit place the burden of proof on Oberst? Like, doesn’t he now have to prove that he didn’t rape her? It’s also the first time I’ve ever heard of in which someone sued an anonymous commenter, and I could see it having some bearing on what sort of things people get to say on the internet.