Sunday, 29 March 2009
I have gleaned some material quoted in comments on various sites regarding internet anonymity and added a bit of research for quick reference.
Many people don't want the things they say online to be connected with their offline identities. They may be concerned about political or economic retribution, harassment, or even threats to their lives. Whistleblowers report news that companies and governments would prefer to suppress; human rights workers struggle against repressive governments; parents try to create a safe way for children to explore; victims of domestic violence attempt to rebuild their lives where abusers cannot follow.
Instead of using their true names to communicate, these people choose to speak using pseudonyms (assumed names) or anonymously (no name at all). For these individuals and the organizations that support them, secure anonymity is critical. It may literally save lives.
Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society. (EFF)
Is anonymous speech a right?
Yes. Anonymous speech is presumptively protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Anonymous pamphleteering played an important role for the Founding Fathers, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, whose Federalist Papers were first published anonymously. And the Supreme Court has consistently backed up that tradition, ruling, for example, that an Ohio law requiring authors to put their names on campaign literature was a violation of the First Amendment. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled that protecting anonymous speech has the same purpose as the First Amendment itself: to "protect unpopular individuals from retaliation and their ideas from suppression." (Cyberslapp)
"Anonymous speech on the Internet lets people make criticisms that are difficult to state openly, and share information and support about topics that might be stigmatizing, such as addiction or sexual abuse,"" said Ann Beeson, Staff Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Unless online anonymity is protected, whistleblowers who want to criticize their employers, parents who want to criticize the principal of their children's school - and many others - may be afraid to speak out. That would be a loss for our country." Beeson pointed out that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that anonymous speech is a right protected by the First Amendment. (ACLU)
A blogger describes her experiences (2006)
This outing thing is really getting out of hand.
This is the way she informed me that she’d figured out who I was.
And she has. Congratulations, Ann, you guessed right. You know who I am, and where I work. And you’ve been very clear that you don’t like pseudonymity, and you’ve been just as clear that you don’t care for me. You’ve also made it clear that you’re not above threatening to out people you don’t care for when you’re angry. So, what’s your next move?
You could sue me. Of course, as my Civil Procedure professor used to say, “You can always sue. The question is, can you win?”
And what do you hope to recover after all that? A few bucks? A little vindication? Any victory you might have would be singularly Pyrrhic, I would imagine. Your reputation will suffer more from a suit than it would from my comments.
All at a cost of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs on both sides. More likely tens of thousands of dollars.
And all because you couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to find out who I was. Because it’s pseudonymity that you find so appalling, that you think can be abused. (Feministe)
It would appear to me that Mike Doogan acted impulsively in his need for revenge once he obtained the information he wanted so badly. Mudflats had been critical of some of his actions and instead of defending his position with valid arguments, he retaliated by divulging AKM's identity on his official website. The implications of his actions are immense and the consequences will be far more serious for himself than for AKM. He didn't stop to consider all the possibilities before he opened his big mouth.
Mike Doogan defended himself in an interview with Alaska Dispatch: Doogan said that from his point of view, as soon as she began to influence public policy she gave up her right to remain anonymous. "If this was a group of people sitting around the living room, relentlessly attacking public figures, that would be one thing. But she's been doing that on the Internet--which goes everywhere--for the better part of the year, and she's allowed to do that anonymously? Where's the benefit of that to our state or our country?" (Alaska Dispatch)
The answer to his question becomes abundantly clear by reading the first part of this post.
Perhaps he should have acquainted himself with the Constitution of his country before embarking in such reckless conduct.