Identity and anonymity

On the Dallas Morning News opinion blog today, the paper brags about what sets its letters apart from online discussion: identity. They quote a frequent letter writer named Chris (irony: no last name given) who says:

There was a statement in this guide whose importance is understood by far too few. Maybe it should have been entered in bigger and bolder lettering. The statement went as follows:

“There is no shortage of online forums where people can make up facts and throw bombs. But in our published letters to the editor, people sign their names and publicly stand behind their opinions.”

In a free society, opinions without sources reflect poorly on both writers and readers. This fact, along with the feedback that hard copy journalism has concerning government at all levels, constitute a valuable rationale for the necessity, existence and continuation of such journalism.

I’m not sure I can parse that last sentence into anything approaching clarity. But the point of the rest is clear: identity is good.

But then there’s a comment left by one PaulC (no last name, either), who argues:

Really?

“In an important case for privacy and free speech advocates, the
Supreme Court ruled recently that the First Amendment protects
anonymous political speech. In McIntyre v. Ohio Election Commission,
decided April 19, 1995, the Court struck down an Ohio law that required
the disclosure of personal identity on political literature. . . .

Justice Steven’s opinion for the Court note that arguments favoring
the ratification of the Constitution advanced in the Federalist Papers
were published under fictitious names. Justice Stevens said “quite
apart from any threat of persecution, an advocate may believe her
ideas will be more persuasive if her readers are unaware of her
identity. Anonymity thereby provides a way for a writer who may be
personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge her
message simply because they do not like its proponent.” Stevens
concluded “Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a
pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of
advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of
the majority. “

Each is right. I have long said here that I give more credence and value to the opinions of those who stand by those opinions with their names, as I do here. But there is a place for anonymity in political discourse (and in whistleblowing and under repressive regimes).

  • http://www.ukfree.tv Briantist

    Hmm.. I have always used a “handle” to identify myself online, and I find it useful not to be confused with the Mathematics Professor of the same name (and I guess he does to).

    Surely using a consistent identity that is not your full birth name is OK?

  • http://www.privacypartners.com Alpha

    I do appreciate the irony of posting letters against anonymity but not providing real information; funny. I can see both points of views but ultimately, to each his own. Some may value being open and using their real name while others feel more comfortable using a pseudo-identity. I for one am the latter and feel that there is just too many miscreants on the Internet that can find some way to use any information they can find–I value my privacy over all else…

    Briantist, using the same handle allows others to build a profile of your surfing habits, much like ISPs and marketing companies use IP addresses. Just some food for thought; I am not sure how many other posters also use “Briantist” but a simple Google search can surprise many people.

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  • http://johnwelsh.wordpress.com/2008/12/18/why-are-so-many-b2b-media-blogs-anonymous/ John Welsh

    There are few enough blogs about B2B magazine sector and yet far too many are anonymous. What excuse do they have? Whistleblowing and repressive regimes? I don’t think so.

  • http://www.quickwebproxy.com Hassan

    You should look into other blogging platforms, wordpress is getting slower and slower these days, I really like the site tho so its worth the wait!!

  • http://yvettepaige.com Yvette Paige

    The internet is still the Wild West as far as policing goes.

    I suspect in the long run as Governments seek to control it, as they will. Then anonymous ids will be more and more a luxury of the non conformist.