Trolls Don't Need To Be Anonymous, And Not All Anonymous People Are Trolls
from the setting-the-record-straight dept
Julian Sanchez points us to the latest in a series of ridiculously uninformed editorials whining about the evils of anonymity online. This one is by Gayle Falkenthal in the Washington Times. The premise, apparently, is that anonymity only made sense in the past, when the internet was “immature.”
When the Internet was new, its nature bred the protective philosophy of embracing anonymity as a counterweight to the potential for sacrificing some of your personal privacy to participate.
The Internet has matured. Anonymity has become counterproductive and even damaging. If you?re willing to stand up and render a public opinion, you should reveal your identity. The time has come to limit the ability of people to remain anonymous.
That first sentence makes no sense. Anonymity didn’t just spring up because of the internet. And it had nothing to do with being a “counterweight to the potential for sacrificing some of your personal privacy to participate.” That’s someone making up history. As for anonymity being counterproductive? I think we can go with a big, fat  and move on. And, by moving on, I mean moving on to more broad brush stereotypes that have little basis in reality:
Early adopters were iconoclasts, rule breakers and social misfits. Nerds targeted in the real world by bullies could push back without facing any personal risk. Anonymity plus anger bred boldness in the form of bad behavior. And so, the Troll was born.
This bugs me, because it’s been discussed time and time again. We’ve pointed out that some of our most trollish commenters are not anonymous, while some of our best commenters are anonymous. Can trollish commenters be anonymous? Yes. Does that mean anonymity is at fault? No.
Anonymous commenting should become a thing of the past. Anonymity allows trolls to breed. Let?s admit it, chalk it up to being a good idea that failed, and end the practice.
It’s only failed if you have a bad community, don’t engage with your community and let the trolls take over. In our experience, anonymity has made it easier for lots of people to counteract trollish comments, provide facts and data, and to keep our comments vibrant and interesting.
Those arguing for anonymity claim that free speech will be squelched because individuals might fear reprisals at work or among friends and family when their personal opinions are made public. Some speech doesn?t deserve a forum. Anonymity creates real and lasting harm when people are hit with false accusations and name-calling attacks. There is no way to tell if a damning restaurant review is written by a competitor or disgruntled employee.
That’s not an issue of anonymity. If people are hit with false accusations, there are defamation laws on the books to deal with it. If there’s a damning restaurant review written by a competitor or a disgruntled employee, there are mechanisms to deal with that (such as lots more good reviews from actual customers).
When our nation was being formed, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin stood behind their incendiary, treasonous views in public even at the risk of being hanged for what they said.
I was about to point out that Thomas Paine’s big contribution to the public discourse was Common Sense which was published anonymously, but I skipped ahead to the end where Falkenthal tells us that herself:
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but not anonymity. If you want to be anonymous, create your own blog and become the modern version of a Colonial pamphleteer. Some high quality pamphlets were written anonymously, like Thomas Paine?s Common Sense, but most went into the trashcan of history. Just like those long forgotten pamphleteers, modern anonymous blogsites full of insults and rants will not long be remembered.
So, uh, wait. Which is it? Is it that Thomas Paine stood behind his incendiary treasonous views, or that he published them anonymously. It appears that even Falkenthal is confused. Furthermore, the last two sentences appears to undermine her entire argument. If these anonymous comments are just going into the trashcan of history and “will not long be remembered,” then why do we need to ban them?
It seems like her argument is that anonymous speech is evil because it’s mean and doubly horrible because no one pays attention to it. Honestly, her column — with her name on it — seems a lot more troll-like than an awful lot of “anonymous” comments we see these days.