In my home town paper the headline was Disconnect 1st Amendment from Internet hatemongers. The LA times version was Douse the Online Flamers: Faceless Internet sadists who ruin reputations don’t deserve full free-speech protection. Written by Andrew Keen the Cult of the Amateur guy – who wrote the book to get attention and blogs himself .
It begins with our little friend the “identity dog“.
THE CARTOON isn’t as amusing as it once was. “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” one Web-surfing canine barked to another in that 1993 classic from the New Yorker. Back then, of course, at the innocent dawn of the Internet Age, the idea that we might all be anonymous on the Web promised infinite intellectual freedom. Unfortunately, however, that promise hasn’t been realized. Today, too many anonymous Internet users are posting hateful content about their neighbors, classmates and co-workers; today, online media is an increasingly shadowy, vertiginous environment in which it is becoming harder and harder to know other people’s real identities.
It goes into depth about several cases where anonymous online speech was harmful to people online.
And ends with him too..
All three of these cases indicate that the U.S. Supreme Court soon might need to rethink the civic value of anonymous speech in the digital age. Today, when cowardly anonymity is souring Internet discourse, it really is hard to understand how anonymous speech is vital to a free society. That New Yorker cartoon remains true: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. But it is the responsibility of all of us — parents, citizens and lawmakers — to ensure that contemporary Web users don’t behave like antisocial canines. And one way to achieve this is by introducing more legislation to punish anonymous sadists whose online lies are intended to wreck the reputations and mental health of innocent Americans.
I just finished reading Daniel Solove the Future of Reputation.
It goes in to great detail about the different forms that violations of privacy and reputation can happen and what the law has had to say about it.
One of the most important things to remember is that Virtue of Anonymity this is covered on page 139 of the chapter on Free Speech, Anonymity and Accountability (PDF).
The saga ofArticle III Groupie demonstrates how easy it seems to be anonymous on the Internet. A person can readily create a blog under a pseudonym or can post anonymous comments to blogs or online discussion groups. According to a survey, percent ofbloggers use pseudonyms rather than their real identities. Anonymity can be essential to free speech. As the Supreme Court has noted: “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress ofmankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.”60 Anonymous speech has a long history as an important mode of expression.
Between 1789 and 1809, six presidents, fifteen cabinet members, twenty senators, and thirty-four congressmen published anonymous political writings orused pen names. It was common for letters to the editor in local newspapers to be anonymous. Ben Franklin used more than forty pen names during his life. Mark Twain, O. Henry, Voltaire, George Sand, and George Eliot were all pseudonymous authors. Indeed, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay published the Federal Papers under the pseudonym Publius. Their opponents, the Anti-Federalists, also used pseudonyms.62
Anonymity allows people to be more experimental and eccentric without risking damage to their reputations.63Anonymity can be essential to the presentation ofideas, for it can strip away reader biases and prejudices and add mystique to a text. People might desire to be anonymous because they fear social ostracism or being fired from their jobs. Without anonymity, some people might not be willing to express controversial ideas. Anonymity thus can be critical to preserving people’s right to speak freely.
He goes on to talk about the problems that non-accountable anonymous speech can create.
One page 148 he gets to Balancing Anonymity and Accountability. It covers “John Doe” Law suits and the Issues around Section 230 immunity – that ISP’s and other hosters like Yahoo! or even me on my blog are not responsible for what others say in online spaces we provide. The and cases that Keen points to are the result of the failing to find a way to apply Section 230 immunity well.
Solove proposes asks “What Should the Law Do?”
Although existing law lacks nimble ways to resolve disputes about speech and privacy on the Internet, completely immunizing operators of websites works as a sledgehammer. It creates the wrong incentive, providing a broad immunity that can foster irresponsibility. Bloggers should have some responsibilities to others, and Section 230 is telling them that they do not. There are certainly problems with existing tort law. Lawsuits are costly to litigate, and being sued can saddle a blogger with massive expenses. Bloggers often don’t have deep pockets, and therefore it might be difficult for plaintiffs to find lawyers willing to take their cases. Lawsuits can take years to resolve. People seeking to protect their privacy must risk further publicity in bringing suit.
These are certainly serious problems, but the solution shouldn’t be to insulate bloggers from the law. Unfortunately, courts are interpreting Section 230 so broadly as to provide too much immunity, eliminating the incentive to foster a balance between speech and privacy. The way courts are using Section 230 exalts free speech to the detriment ofprivacy and reputation. As a result, a host ofwebsites have arisen that encourage others to post gossip and rumors as well as to engage in online shaming. These websites thrive under Section 230’s broad immunity.
The solution is to create a system for ensuring that people speak responsibly without the law’s cumbersome costs. The task ofdevising such a solution is a difficult one, but giving up on the law is not the answer. Blogging has given amateurs an unprecedented amount ofmedia power, and although we should encourage blogging, we shouldn’t scuttle our privacy and defamation laws in the process.
FREEDOM ON BOTH SIDES OF THE SCALE
Words can wound. They can destroy a person’s reputation, and in the process distort that person’s very identity. Nevertheless, we staunchly protect expression even when it can cause great damage because free speech is essential to our autonomy and to a democratic society. But protecting privacy and reputation is also necessary for autonomy and democracy. There is no easy solution to how to balance free speech with privacy and reputation. This balance isn’t like the typical balance ofcivil liberties against the need for order and social control. Instead, it is a balance with liberty on both sides ofthe scale—freedom to speak and express oneselfpitted against freedom to ensure that our reputations aren’t destroyed or our privacy isn’t invaded.
As I have tried to demonstrate in this chapter, a delicate balance can be reached, but it is not an easy feat. In many instances, free speech and privacy can both be preserved by shielding the identities ofprivate individuals involved in particular stories. With the Internet, a key issue for the law is who should be responsible for harmful speech when it appears on a website or blog. Much speech online can be posted by anybody who wants to comment to a blog post or speak in an online discussion forum. Commentators can cloak themselves in anonymity and readily spread information on popular blogs and websites. The law currently takes a broadly pro–free speech stance on online expression. As a result, it fails to create any incentive for operators ofwebsites to exercise responsibility with regard to the comments ofvisitors.
Balancing free speech with privacy and reputation is a complicated and delicate task. Too much weight on either side ofthe scale will have detrimental consequences. The law still has a distance to go toward establishing a good balance.
Andrew Keen is an ‘attention seeker’ (I had a ruder phrase in here but thought better then to publish it)- he is writing to be provocative, get attention and called upon to play the role of the ‘other side’ in a community that is experimenting with a range of forms of openness that challenge traditional or entrenched ‘expertise, authority and hierarchy’. Those threatened by emergence of power via new technologies ‘like’ what Andrew has to say. I think it is irresponsible for Andrew to call to the end of the First Amendment’s protection of Anonymous speech online because some small percentage of people are hurt by this – clearly there needs be some evolution in the law and the practices that we have to balance privacy and freedom.