Local Blog Outs Local Politician's Crazy But Anonymous Comments. So...Is That Okay?

from the nobody-to-defend dept

While we've talked in the past about whether or not a blog or publication should out a previously anonymous commenter if the outting would be newsworthy, it's worth noting that there was no real consensus reached amongst the venerated Techdirt community. Some of us think that there might be room for such a move. Others, such as myself, take more of a hard line approach to protecting anonymity (see the comments section in the link above for what I'd say is a really nice discussion on the question). Either way, with the widespread blogosphere and public participation in online communities only ratcheting ever-higher, it's useful to bring stories to the table to discuss how this all works when such events do occur.

This latest example is about John Huppenthal, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction and apparent frequent anonymous commenter at Blog For Arizona. Bob Lord, of BFA, recently penned a post that outs Huppenthal for his previously anonymous and simultaneously insane comments on the site.

Okay, for the few of you who have not figured this out yet, by all indication our friend Thucky is John Huppenthal, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is the fifth highest elected office in the state. This may be a first. I don't know of any other elected official who has led a double life as a serial blog troll besides John Huppenthal. Chalk that up to Arizona having the market cornered on political craziness, I guess.
The post then outs Huppenthal for commenting anonymously there, on other conservative sites, and for creating duplicate handles all over the place in order to fake some kind of consensus around what he says. And what he was saying, analysis indicates, is batshit crazy. Such as:
-"bat shit crazy stuff"!!! Its in Obamas book, Obama said he was born in Kenya!!!! If this were a Republican, you would be going nuts demanding those college records.

-Hitler worked to eliminate the Jews. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood was given the job of eliminating African Americans. Hitler fed 6 million Jews into the ovens. Sanger has fed 16 million African Americans into the abortion mills.

-No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv, no spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English.
Now, it's worth noting that Huppenthal has since acknowledged that he did indeed make those comments under several different names, speaking of and to himself in the third person. That acknowledgement was followed up with something about believing in public discourse, regretting certain inflammatory words (Hitler! Kenya!), but hoping that we should all recognize that our great country has a long history of anonymous speech from politicians.

And...I happen to think he's right on that last point. Look, Huppenthal is a blowhard, fact-ignoring caricature of a politician on one end of the political spectrum. He's not representative of anything other than his own idiocy, but the sites he went to offered anonymous commenting and then pulled the rug out from under him when they decided that his commenting was a story. They're not wrong; Huppenthal's online antics and self-sock-puppetry is indeed a story, but does that story outweigh the fallout from the removal of anonymity? I would say no. Others, including other writers here at Techdirt, might say yes. I'm more interested in what you all think, anonymous or otherwise.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    I'd say outing a politician, or anyone posting anonymously like that would be uncalled for unless they happen to be actively working to end the ability of others to post and comment online anonymously.

    So regularly, let them keep their anonymity, just like anyone else, but if you're talking about for example a politician who's pushing for forcing people to use their real names online, say under the excuse of 'Fighting trolls/spam/cyber-bullying', then they deserve to find out just what that lack of anonymity is like firsthand.

     

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    justok (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:06pm

    Perhaps they were only using meta data to out him.

     

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    Sheogorath (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:07pm

    An example of Godwin's Law?

    John Huppenthal said: Hitler worked to eliminate the Jews. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood was given the job of eliminating African Americans. Hitler fed 6 million Jews into the ovens. Sanger has fed 16 million African Americans into the abortion mills.

     

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  4.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:09pm

    Re:

    Impossible, the government always makes it quite clear you can't identify someone based upon metadata, and I'm sure they'd never lie about something like that. /s

     

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    Donnicton, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:20pm

    I'm kind of curious how they even specifically knew, considering that blog only seems to want a name and an e-mail. (and it's not very specific about even being truthful about those)

    Was he stupid enough to post from a government IP, or use his office e-mail or something? (This wouldn't surprise me.)

     

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  6.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:21pm

    Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    Godwin's Law is about silly comparisons. ("What, you don't agree that the Mariners are the best team of all time? What are you, some sort of Nazi?") If those numbers are accurate, this would appear to be one of those rare cases where the comparison actually makes sense.

    The question, then, is how correct are his figures?

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:22pm

    Sock Puppetry

    I'm all for protecting his anonymous speech. I don't think that is a line that should be crossed even in the name of news, or because he was making batshit crazy statements.
    That being said however I'm far less inclined to offer the same protection to sockpuppets, astroturfers or their ilk.
    If he is creating multiple accounts to hold false dialog with himself then that may be something that needs to be exposed.

     

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    Vel the Enigmatic, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:27pm

    As for me.

    I think there is no right answer, here.

    On the one hand, you'd be exposing political fuckery on the part of a politician who is actively trying to influence public opinion and the public consciousness.

    On the other, if you're an advocate for anonymity online in comments such as those here on Techdirt, exposing the politician for the sake of a story would also be shooting yourself in the foot. Cause it would make you out to be a bunch of liars who say one thing then do another, and hurts your credibility as much as outing the politician would hurt theirs.

    So again, no right answer. It's a tough call.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:31pm

    Re:

    I don't know. I think the line can drawn at creating accounts "in order to fake some kind of consensus around what he says". At that point he's not merely trying to protect his identity, but create false ones.

     

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    AricTheRed (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:42pm

    Re: As for me, Not a tough call at all.

    You are either for free speech, anonymity and all, or you are against it.

    If I got up on my soap box, in the public square, 20 years ago and spouted my opinions only my friends and acquaintances would know who I was and I'd therefore be anonymous. If I were a public figure and therefore would be recognized, and wrote a letter to the editor instead and didn't sign it or include a return address I'd be anonymous.

    Granted with Facial recognition, facebook, and the surveillance state we've got less now than ever before but it seems to me as I stated in my opener, one is either for or against. I see no middle path.

    Plus, it seems dirty to offer anonymity and then revoke it when convenient and compelled only by ones desires and whims.

     

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    Sheogorath (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:49pm

    Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    In my mind, the comparison is ridiculous because it equates the promotion of birth and disease control with the murder of millions of Jews, gay men, disabled people, and other such 'undesirables'.

     

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:50pm

    Integrity

    The website destroyed, possibly forever, their credibility and integrity. What temporary benefit did they see that might have motivated them to perform such an act?

     

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    sorrykb (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:51pm

    Two questions

    This is a tough one, but...

    1. Was he posting from a work computer or during his expected working hours? If so, then I'm sort of OK with his being outed. (Say I, quasi-anonymously, from my work computer, during working hours... oops. But in my defense, I'm really bored. And I'm also not an elected official.)

    2. Could the fact that someone in his position is making these statements make it a matter of public interest? Should this be viewed a leak of information concerning a public official that the public needs to know? I'm inclined to say yes.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    I'm guessing this is what you mean, but it's actually simpler than that: one is an action that society has determined is legal, the other is a crime of epic proportions in the eyes of the law.

    The religious might think abortion is a crime, but their opinions only matter as far as they can get the government to mirror them. There's simply no relevant comparison between the holocaust and abortion clinics....

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:01pm

    This is an incredibly nuanced issue, and it's hard to find the right answer. In this case? I'd say it's okay, only if there was some indication that this guy was a government official before someone dug into it and outed him. Some random person screaming crazy things on the internet, of whom you know nothing about? Absolutely not. Someone who appears to be in a position of power making these statements? I think his/her constituents deserve to know what beliefs they are promoting - false or otherwise.

     

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    sorrykb (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Two questions

    and... upon further reflection, I've changed my mind (or at least would like to clarify) about my own point #1. If he's posting from a work computer and/or on work time, outing him might be OK iff he's a public official. If he were a private citizen working for a private employer, then misuse of his work computer or work time should be between him and the employer.

     

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:10pm

    Huppenthal is a public "servant"

    Anything he says in public should be public. People need to know what their public servants are saying in public, and commenting on a blog post or newspaper article should be properly attributed. If he were not a public servant, then let him keep his anonymity.

    All in all, I favor the option of being anonymous on the web, but as I said, I believe this is one exception to the rule. The people who voted for him need to know what a crankshaft he is!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    No, Godwin's law is about that eventually, as an online debate goes on, the probability of someone making a comparison to Hitler/Nazis rises.

     

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    OldMugwump (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:15pm

    It depends

    Does the story outweigh the fallout from the removal of anonymity?

    It depends on who is doing the outing.

    If a blog promises anonymity and then doesn't honor it, that is a huge problem, and in my view unacceptable. (Special cases such as a anti-anonymity politician perhaps excepted.)

    If a 3rd party (a newspaper reporter, whatever) finds out independently and does the outing (without a leak from the blog), that's 100% OK with me.

    In my view it's a matter of contractual and moral obligation - in one case a promise is being broken, in the other it's not.

     

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  20.  
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    Zos (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:27pm

    Doxing is a dick move. Doxing a politician though- well, the rules of flame war don't apply to scum.

     

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  21.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    Okay, does seventh comment down from the blogpost count as 'eventually' and thus fulfil the requirements for Godwin's Law? Check out the original unabridged comment by Thucydides.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymouse, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:36pm

    He was silly enough to rely on the kindness of strangers not to out him. That was pretty dumb really. This is more of what a lack of technical wisdom will do for you. Just as the people have to fight now to protect their anonymous speech, so too should our political leaders.

    I have no problem with him being outed by the venue he was using to stump on. And yes I am well aware I am not using anything to obscure my address from this website. If I were that concerned about being found out, i would be using proxies, encryption, spoofed MAC, and a registered account with an email address for it and it alone, at a minimum.

    If I can do all that, surely someone with an election to lose can at least take the same precautions when they go on a bender online.

    All that said, politicians SHOULD speak publicly their ideals and stand up for them. Fine be a racist, but stand up for it. Fine be an asshole BUT STAND UP FOR IT! Defend your position to the people, to your peers and to the electorate.

    It'd be quite a refreshing change form all the shady bullshit politicians believe their offices should be engaged in.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:43pm

    Arizona having the market cornered on political craziness?! I guess he's never heard of California...or New York...or Massachusettes...

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:44pm

    Re: Sock Puppetry

    Indeed; I'd go as far as to say that unless the accounts were advertized as being anonymous, they really aren't. At this point, it's up to the site's terms of service and privacy rules; and if sockpuppetry and astroturfing are against the TOS, then that means that any expectation of privacy is completely gone.

    On the other hand, if you're not creating an account and are listed as Anonymous, I'd hope that the site would live up to that claim.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    "Over there we filled the ovens
    Right here, the holocaust."
    -Alice Cooper, "Brutal Planet"

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 4:52pm

    To those saying politicians should not be anonymous

    Tell that to the founding fathers. Franklin and Paine both spoke anonymously (and in a political sense), though not as elected officials. Without them, we might not be here today, discussing this. Tell me that anonymous speech was bad. (No quoting King George or his minions)

     

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    mischab1, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 5:15pm

    Generally, I'd say yes to outing the behavior, "for creating duplicate handles all over the place in order to fake some kind of consensus around what he says", but no for outing the actual person. i.e. You out Thucky for doing these things, not Huppenthal.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 6:01pm

    It wasn't clear from the original websites how they figured out it was him. (Maybe I missed it?) The method makes a huge difference.

    Scenario 1: They figured out it was him from analyzing the public text of his comments and comparing it to his public writing as an official.

    Scenario 2: They figured out it was him via "private" information (such as an ip address or cookies), all the while claiming to support anonymous speech.

    Scenario 1 is perfectly fine; indeed, I hope that it keeps happening as a mechanism to hold public officials accountable. Scenario 2 is a betrayal of their users and undermines any credibility the website has in the first place.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 6:08pm

    The problem here is that if a site will identify a user for their own benefit then they can no longer argue that they protect anonymity so they cannot defend against demands for the identity of other posters.

     

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 7:20pm

    Re: To those saying politicians should not be anonymous

    That was my point. They were private citizens who had the right to privacy, hence anonymity. When elected officials, those rights change. Privacy, yes. Anonymity no. Just MHO. I suspect that Franklin, Paine, et al would agree. Now, I just have to get into my Way Back Machine to verify that! :-)

     

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    Anonymouse, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 7:23pm

    Re: To those saying politicians should not be anonymous

    The Founders actually took steps to conceal their identities. They knew it was political suicide (if not actual suicide) speak under their own names in public at the time. They used *gasp* technology to remain anonymous and spread their message, their beliefs, their values, and their ideals among the populace at large.

    Pseudonyms, ghost writers, changing writing style, the printing press, networks of people who had no idea who the writers were to disseminate those papers to the people, to communicate with each other right under the noses of the Crown.

    My point is, they WORKED to be anonymous. They did not place blind faith in every printer they saw, they didn't walk up at noon and post notices and bills in town square and then expect the town crier to conceal their identity later when the Crown soldiers came looking for the perpetrator.

     

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    DocGerbil100 (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 8:09pm

    Quality

    I think the quality of a given answer depends on the quality and honesty of the question.

    'Should news-outlets expose would-be anonymous commenters if their identities are newsworthy' isn't a good or honest question - it lacks any recognition of social benefits or harms, focusing instead on the benefit to the news-outlet, excluding all other considerations.

    A better formulation would be four questions - not as headline-friendly, perhaps, but more honest and far more likely to obtain good answers:
    • 'where does society benefit from anonymous comments';
    • 'where is society harmed by anonymous comments' and;
    • 'where is the brightest path between the last two answers that allows us to maximise the benefits, while minimising the harm'.

    The first question is most clearly answered by me. I am pseudonymous and, obviously, fantastic - anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly a damned fool. I comment honestly, free from much fear of significant repercussion or personal harm, despite crude attempts by censorious governments to chill all our speech.

    The answer to the second question is best exemplified by the dismayingly-endless legions of astroturfers, trolls, spy-agency employees and other fraudsters. Such people are attempting to spam the world into seriously considering what are basically lies, intended to do nothing more than distort public perception and discussion and - more often than not - to drown out all rational discourse in favour of partisan political extremism.

    Those are easy-enough answers, but finding the ethical path can be more involved.

    As a general matter, I think that if a person - whether they be a Somebody or a Nobody - appears to be expressing an honest view, then society presumably benefits from their contribution - however demented it might be - and they deserve their anonymity.

    If they're using sockpuppets all over the shop, if they're trying to endlessly mislead and deceive, then they deserve no protection at all. I don't believe I benefit from being deceived. I assume society doesn't, either. I have no problem with websites that chill the speech of deliberate liars and deceivers.

    The bright line necessarily turns on a given poster's honesty and intentions, which can often be difficult to gauge, even when you know exactly who they are.

    The most obvious trolls are obvious - and Huppenthal in the article is clearly one such troll, undeserving of much protection. His anonymity is gone, but in my opinion, little of value was lost, notwithstanding the chilling effects on BlogForArizona's comment-section.

    While it might have been wiser to expose his most commonly-used online identity, rather than the man himself, that's on the mercy and wisdom of the moderator - and in this case, I'm not inclined to second-guess it overmuch.

    So long as I can see that those responsible look towards society's good, rather than their own short-term benefit, I find no difficulty in continuing to trust sites like Techdirt to make correct and wise choices in such matters.

    Apart from anything else, if they ever make the wrong choice, they can be very sure we'll all let them know exactly how bad a choice it was. :)

     

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    DocGerbil100 (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    Re: Quality

    ... erm, that's three questions, my bad. I swear, I've never seen a website in more dire need of an edit button than Techdirt. :P

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 9:24pm

    Re: Re:

    You can point out this behaviour without having to name the guy...

     

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    Vel the Enigmatic, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 9:47pm

    Re: Re: As for me, Not a tough call at all.

    That black and white mentality is fallacious by default. There is always a middle ground whether one is willing to admit it or not.

    I personally agree it is dirty to revoke anonymity after offering it at one's convenience. However, I was speaking on this as an observer and on a rational level rather than a visceral one.

     

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    Arizona Eagletarian, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 9:49pm

    Re:

    Yes, he was. He posted from a government IP address and eventually admitted the whole thing.

     

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  37.  
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    Arizona Eagletarian, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 9:53pm

    Re: Two questions

    John Huppenthal is an elected official. He made racist comments and was also fully engaged in sockpuppetry to pat laud his own "accomplishments."

     

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  38.  
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    Arizona Eagletarian, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 9:56pm

    Re: It depends

    The blog does NOT promise anonymity.

     

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    Arizona Eagletarian, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 10:01pm

    Re: To those saying politicians should not be anonymous

    People found out who wrote Paine's pamphlets. He didn't stay anonymous.

    He knew he was angering established power structures.

    However, Paine was the opposite of racist. He advocated for elimination of slavery, even though it was decades after his death before the 13th Amendment was passed.

    Btw, I disclose, on my blog, my real identity.

     

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    Arizona Eagletarian, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 10:03pm

    Re:

    Both were factors.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 11:58pm

    This is fun...

    What if Bob Lord had created his own sockpuppet (and some parallel-constructed evidence) to out Huppenthal's sockpuppetry... and one of Lord's co-workers then outed him?

    How important is the anonymity of an anonymous commenter who destroys the anonymity of a different anonymous commenter?

     

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    G Thompson (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 1:59am

    Unless they somehow out themselves, or from knowledge and words a reasonable person can tell who they are, anonymity should be sacrosanct and NEVER outed by the owner/admin of the platform.

    Basically by outing them the site owners have stripped all credibility of their platform and any other anonymous persons are absolutely justified in never ever believing that they too won't be outed based on the whim of the administrators.

    It's both ethically and under certain conditions (dependent on what was in the EULA/ToS legally (breach of contract) wrong.

     

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  43.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:01am

    Re: Re: Quality

    I've never seen a website in more dire need of an edit button than Techdirt

    ^^^This.. a quadzillion times this!! ;)

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 3:38am

    Re: Huppenthal is a public "servant"

    I disagree. Anonymity should be the default for everybody. He may be batshit crazy but there are responsible, honest politicians out there that are trying to make a difference and being critical of the Govt while on record would either make the other politicians "burn" them or even lead to death threats and assassination itself. There's even this crazy-ass politician that used a pseudonym to criticize his own Government.

    Yes, he should have the right to anonymity no matter how bad he is.

     

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    Mason Wheeler, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 7:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    That's an odd position to take, when this site spends so much time covering problems that arise from unjust laws.

     

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    Mason Wheeler, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 7:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    Also (and again, why oh why does Techdirt's comment system not have an Edit button like 99% of all comment systems everywhere?) it's important to remember that what the Nazis did was legal too, so that's not even a valid analogy.

     

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    Shaku Arai (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 7:41am

    What an ugly mess!

    This is such a messy situation! I for one support the right to be anonymous on the internet but at the same time abhor the notion of people (Especially elected officials)using said anonymity to spread racial/hate speech or to manipulate public opinion.

    Perhaps there should be a la where elected politicians are forbidden from using anonymous accounts as long as the hold office and that includes having proxies post on their behalf (Yes I do know it is a pain to enforce but what else can we do?)

     

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    polymath, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 10:05am

    the sockpuppetry is key

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned one very plausible scenario for the doxing. The site had many sockpuppets. They probably wanted to bring that under control. So they notice that a whole bunch of folks are posting from the same IP. Now they want to determine whether that's legitimate (a widely shared IP) or not.

    Presto... the site is now in possession of the dox.

    Seriously what do you do, as a news site, when you now find that a public person not only is offering controversial opinions, but is also running a ring of sockpuppets?

    Sockpuppetry is a manipulative offense, like spamming. People who do it lose protection against doxing. The person is after all making it appear that many people hold an opinion -- which hijacks comment sections -- when in fact only one person does.

     

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    GEMont, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 10:40am

    A promise is a promise, or its a lie.

    To expose a participant's real-name identity on a site that claims anonymity, without good cause, such as protection of other participants against threats of harm, is a breach of contract.

    Once you make a single undocumented exception to a rule, the rule no longer exists. If you offer anonymity, then you MUST honor that offer, or lose participants and credibility and weaken the necessity of anonymity for free speech in the eyes of law enforcement.

    You can make a set of documented exceptions such as "if a participant threatens harm to another participant, or to anyone living, then their anonymity will be ended", but such exceptions must be included with the promise of anonymity and literally spelled out in plain language.

    Sock-puppetry is easily controlled by simply placing the participant's other handles in brackets beside the newest handle.

    This would end sock-puppetry altogether and should be posted on any blog-site as standard operating procedure to protect other participants from such scams/ruses.

    Any site that did not include this promise would be then seen as a place where participants can be deceived by users with two or more accounts, because sock-puppetry is allowed and thus promoted.

    Since the author's actual name is still unknown, and only the link between the various sock-puppet handles is acknowledged, the user's actual identity remains unknown and the other participants are protected from, and informed about the ruse.

    Otherwise, the legacy industries and government will win the day if anonymity becomes an added privilege that can be revoked arbitrarily.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    alan turing, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 11:38am

    Item 9 exists

    ...and Huppenthal is on it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
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    JP Jones (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Huppenthal is a public "servant"

    I also disagree. There is a big difference between personal opinion and public opinion. Politicians are humans and still have the same rights. Also, just because someone has an opinion or personality you don't like does NOT mean they are acting against your will.

    I'm personally in the military, and the way I act in my professional environment is different than the way I act at home. If I disagree with an order, for example, my subordinates will never know it. If I wrote an anonymous blog explaining why that order is dumb, should I be outed because I work for the government? Maybe it's not exactly the same, but you can do your job (in my case, enforcing orders, in the politician's case, acting in accordance with the will of his constituents) without personally agreeing with it.

    Perhaps in this particular case it's different, but there are plenty of things I've written online that I would not want associated with my military background, because they are written from the persepective of ME, as JP Jones, not the U.S. Government, as a commissioned officer. It's not because I'm ashamed of these things, it's simply because my personal views do not necessarily represent the views of my organization. And when acting in an official capacity, I act in accordance with the organization's view...not my own.

    Why? That's what it means to be a public servant and work for the people; you supplant your own will for the will of the people when acting in their name. That doesn't mean I should have to give up my own opinions and freedoms; I'm still an American citizen and have the right to disagree with anyone I wish (and good luck trying to take it away!).

    While I do believe this guy was inappropriate and disagree (at least in form) with his opinions, I believe that being in the public eye does not automatically force you to give up your privacy. His actions were not illegal and, had they been left private, would not have had a negative impact on his public persona.

    In the military we often ask whether or not a particular action was "prejudicial to good order and discipline" and often the fact whether anyone knows about it is a deciding factor (e.g., an anonymous posting of "Obama sucks!" is not an issue, but the same posting from "Sgt Smith, United States Army" is a court-martialable offense).

    Since his actions didn't fit this test until they were revealed, I would say the blog is at fault for violating their anonymity. Anonymous political discourse by politicians is built into the foundation of our political system (*cough* the Federalist Papers *cough*). Removing that freedom just because we have the technical capability would be a pretty significant loss to the political process.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
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    JP Jones (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:04pm

    Re: Re: It depends

    It does, however, state that "your email address will not be published." I couldn't find a privacy policy (so I guess lack of one equals no privacy?).

    That being said, in opposition to my earlier opinion, I'm not convinced the blog did the wrong thing anymore. It looks like they'd already pretty much figured it out based on the 4chan method (based on writing style and political views, and some good old internet searches...basically using the same thing anyone else could).

    They just used the IP addresses later to confirm it, and it looks like they did so to respond to terms of service violations for actions on the other website. The way it was implied from this story made it sound like the website outed him based purely on his user account's hidden information.

    I still believe politicians should be allowed to post anonymously online. This guy crossed the line from "political discourse" to "abusive user" and the blog used standard journalistic techniques, not just inside knowledge of his account information, to out him.

    I'm all for free speech, and anonymity...but free speech can have consequences, and it's the blogs free speech to call him out. I guess it wasn't the end result that bothered me as much as the method...and since the method seems to be standard journalism I don't really have a problem with it. It's when people abuse the "3rd party doctrine" that I get upset.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
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    JP Jones (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:38pm

    Re: A promise is a promise, or its a lie.

    To expose a participant's real-name identity on a site that claims anonymity, without good cause, such as protection of other participants against threats of harm, is a breach of contract.

    The blog doesn't have a privacy policy and doesn't create an account; it just asks for name and email address (the email address isn't published). There's no contract to breach as they didn't publish his email.

    Once you make a single undocumented exception to a rule, the rule no longer exists.

    You're sort of correct here...the rule never existed.

    Sock-puppetry is easily controlled by simply placing the participant's other handles in brackets beside the newest handle.

    This isn't that easy from a technical standpoint. IP addresses are not that reliable as a method for determining identity (even with a subpoena). At most you can identify the computer someone is using. What if they create one account from a library computer or mobile device and another from a home computer? What if they unplug their router for a night and get assigned a new IP? What if two people are using the same computer? And this is all without getting into proxies or VPNs.

    You can find a lot of information about someone online if you are really looking for it. It's pretty hard to automate, though, since computers are kind of dumb. And ultimately people tend to avoid any sort of online posting area that doesn't offer anonymity.

    It's a nice idea, but not really a solution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re: A promise is a promise, or its a lie.

    I just had a discussion with my VPN provider about what MAC address came out the other end. It took some doing.

    In the end it is either the ISP router at the Internet facing end of my network when the VPN is running on a different router, or if the VPN is running from say a notebook through a WiFi rig, then that notebook would be reported.

    Since my Windows system auto-connects to the VPN on reboot, I have a VPN through a VPN situation, and in that case the computers MAC is reported, until I remember to turn it off.

    All this to say, if you want to remain anonymous, your gonna need to do something more than mask your IP address.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
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    voline (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 6:12pm

    Re: Sock Puppetry

    If anonymity is promised, then anonymity should be maintained. But self-sock-puppetry is so destructive to on-line discourse and so valueless that I think in future I may make it a part of my terms of service that the penalty for sock-puppetry may be the revocation of your anonymity.

    * You want to have multiple pseudonymous accounts? Fine.
    * You want to use more than one profile to comment in the same thread? Rarely will this be allowed, and the penalty could be the relationship between the accounts is exposed.
    * Your multiple personas have fake conversations with each other or participate in the same thread to advocate or attack a position or other commenter? You could be outed to the fullest extent possible. Full doxing.

    As long as you're up-front about this, I think it would maintain a commitment to valuable anonymous discourse without having to tolerate some of the mendacious bullshit that can come with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    identicon
    Jose G. Perez, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 8:05pm

    I agree with outing him

    The author's pro-anonymity argument falls apart with this statement: "He's not representative of anything other than his own idiocy."

    But he IS representative of something more, he is a representative of the people of his state, and as such, he has voluntarily assumed a duty to be honest and transparent about his views and actions in relation to the office he holds.

    If he had sought his office on the basis that he would be a lying sneak, hypocritically claiming to be an admirer when it was all self-praise, there might be cause for complaint. But I doubt duplicitousness was the main qualification he put forward to promote his candidacy.

    So as it stands, his claim to privacy is overridden by the public's RIGHT to know --because he has offered himself to represent them-- that his probity cannot be taken for granted.

    He wrote repeatedly, pseudonymously and deceptively not just about issues directly involved with the office he holds but promoting his own positions and performance as if he were a constituent and not the office-holder.

    He should have been outed long ago, and I mean from his office, and not just as the author of his self-serving posts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jul 5th, 2014 @ 7:03pm

    Re: Re: A promise is a promise, or its a lie.

    If a Blog or Social Network does not offer a written posted policy on anonymity, I would think that anyone would assume that they do not support or promote anonymity.

    I know that I would assume this and if it was important to me, I would definitely inquire as to whether or not it was or was not policy.

    If a blog or Social Network does not post a written statement as to their policy on Sock-Puppetry, then I would think anyone would assume they either do not care if participants use multiple handles and multiple accounts, or that they are unable to convince their service provider to aid them in the elimination of such abuse.

    For me, the proof of the ease of identifying apparently anonymous users has been on display for years by the very fact that law enforcement via the courts, can and often does demand an ISP give them lists of identities associated with posts and downloads. A service provider will have ways to discover Sock Puppetry and should do so upon request by a client website owner as a service.

    In fact, Copyright Troll Lawyers depend on the ability of courts to wrest the identities of "anonymous" downloaders from ISPs, in order to carry out their lucrative business of legal extortion of those identified persons.

    I would expect Anti-Sock-Puppetry applications would be run automatically by the network provider offering such a service to clients, not the owners/operators of a website, and that such applications that prevent spam and S-P would be offered by the network provider as security features of their system. Value added.

    In fact, I've always believed that the onus of preventing abuse of the network by spammers and the like has always been on the network providers, not the website operators who "rent" the "spaces" they provide.

    That such systems are not in place currently, says much about the state of the art and the attitudes of the both blog owners and ISP's. Says a lot about bloggers too.

    Of course, I also assume that if such preventative systems were in place, that there would be a large contingent of coders doing their level best to provide applications to defeat them. C'est la vie eh. Restrictions beget Innovations.

    ---

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    identicon
    russk, Jul 5th, 2014 @ 8:53pm

    Re:

    Yes he was that stupid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  59.  
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    toyotabedzrock (profile), Jul 6th, 2014 @ 2:34pm

    Public officials don't get anonymity when talking about public related matters in a public forum.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  60.  
    icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), Jul 6th, 2014 @ 2:34pm

    Public officials don't get anonymity when talking about public related matters in a public forum.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  61.  
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    Niall (profile), Jul 7th, 2014 @ 4:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    So was slavery, but we have since made it illegal. Currently, abortion is legal and even if made illegal will always happen - the only difference being the amount of lives ruined or ended.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  62.  
    icon
    Nurlip (profile), Jul 7th, 2014 @ 11:45am

    i think this argument is skewed by the fact that we already know the identity of the troll and that he is a public official. Remove that aspect of the situation and the answer becomes clear: the anonymity of the author should be protected.

    If the site says its comment system allows for anonymous comments, why was the real identity of the poster even sought? i know site moderators must get tired of ppl trolling their forums but exposing, or even looking for, the identity of said trolls violates the site's stated terms. Block them, mute them, ban them or even re-troll them but don't try to find out who it is unless they are issuing threats/attacks against the site and/or it's users.

    Once the IP address was traced back to a public office address, the question sifts to one of 'public official, public comments?' vs the supposed anonymity of the site's users. 'supposed anonymity' b/c once the ip address was traced, actual anonymity went out the window and revealing the user's identity to the public was just another step, albeit an egregious step, down the path already taken.

    Now say the forum moderator noticed the troll seemed to have limited support on his/her viewpoints that always appeared suspiciously after the trolls own comments and from hardly active accounts otherwise. the moderator, on a hunch, pulls the IPs of the suspect accounts and compares against that of the troll account and find a match. This is digital proof that the person is fabricating identities to support his/her own opinion and this voids some of the anonymity protection promised by the site's terms. Some being the key word in that the duplicate accounts have voided their right to remain anonymous and it is within the moderator's purview to out the false accounts as belonging to said troll. However, this still doesn't justify the tracing of the IP back to its source and revealing the identity of the public official most likely to be behind the troll account. That level of anonymity should always be protected short of threats of violence against others or mention of involvement in prior criminal acts. IMHO anyways.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  63.  
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    sorrykb (profile), Jul 7th, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re: Two questions

    John Huppenthal is an elected official.

    Which is point #2. I'd say it's in the public interest to know that the state's highest public school official is not committed to all children in the public schools.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  64.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: An example of Godwin's Law?

    There's simply no relevant comparison between the holocaust and abortion clinics....
    Which was exactly my point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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