Blogger Defends Outing Politician Trolling His Comments

from the the-debate-is-on dept

We recently had a post by Tim Geigner, questioning whether it was appropriate for a local blog, Blog for Arizona, to out one of its crazier comment trolls as local politician John Huppenthal. There was a good debate in the comments as to the appropriateness of such actions. Bob Lord, of BFA, asked if we would be interested in posting his response. Here it is.

Was Blog for Arizona out of line for outing John Huppenthal as an anonymous commenter, as Mr. Geigner suggests in his recent post?

In this specific case, absolutely not. Among other things, Huppenthal invited us to publish his comments; he was so careless that his identity could be ascertained from the comments themselves, with no reference to the IP addresses we had, and he was posting from a government agency, which would be required to divulge the sites he visited if asked.

Let's put all that aside and approach the more fundamental question: How secure should a John Huppenthal be in his anonymity? He cited the Founding Fathers, several of who wrote anonymously when penning the Federalist Papers.

But the issue here is not the right to anonymous speech. Nobody disputes that right. The issue is whether there is a right to anonymous speech with zero risk of being exposed, even if the speaker is a public figure.

In our judicial system, very few rights are absolute. Why? Because there are competing interests.

For example, public figures do not receive the same level of protection from defamatory statements as ordinary citizens do. If I publish an unfavorable statement against Joe Sixpack, Joe only need show the statement was false in a suit for defamation. But if I make the same statement about an elected official, he has to show not only that the statement was false, but that I made it with reckless disregard for the truth. Why the difference? Because of the competing interest. As a society we don't want people with information about public figures to be overly fearful of coming forward.

If we were to attempt absolute protection of the anonymity of public figures in their online comments, we necessarily would have to encroach upon the freedom of the press and the associated protection of confidentiality of sources. Suppose Blog for Arizona did not expose Huppenthal directly, but instead had one of our writers speak off the record to a reporter, who then called Huppenthal out based on a confidential source and asked Huppenthal to request that Blog for Arizona publicize all its information. Huppenthal would have no practical choice but to comply, or just fess up. So, unless we're willing to encroach upon the freedom of the press, the protection of anonymous commenters could not be complete to the degree Mr. Geigner desires.

Now, consider the issue from the perspective of the blogger. I have knowledge that an elected official who is up for re-election, John Huppenthal, is a racist who believes the Holocaust was more the work of Darwin than of Hitler. Should I have no ability to let the public know what Huppenthal is all about? Perhaps, but only if Blog for Arizona and I had guaranteed Mr. Huppenthal that his anonymity would be protected. Otherwise, imposing some sort of legal gag order on bloggers does not seem the way to go.

The bottom line: We don't need to make it any easier for creeps like John Huppenthal to go undetected. A risk of detection is inherent in anonymous speech. Whatever chilling effect arises from the outing of a Huppenthal, a chilling effect that I submit is minor or non-existent, is outweighed by the value to the public of the outing.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ehud Gavron (profile), Jul 10th, 2014 @ 7:56pm

    Well said

    I am a staunch supporter of the freedoms we have enshrined in our Constitution, our way of life, the rights we are guaranteed, and even those taken away by unjust laws. I agree that anonymous speech is an important part of free and open discourse in a free and open society.

    I also live in Tucson Arizona where John Hupenthal was elected and served various roles within the Tucson Unified School District. While I don't have children, everyone around me does, and I'd like those children to grow up educated.

    I'm also Jewish by birth, and holocaust-deniers do not sit well with me. Deniers of any fact (truthers, birthers, holocaust-deniers, etc.) are unstable people with their own version of reality. While I respect everyone's right to have their own hallucinations in private, when they teach society it is incumbent on us to ensure they are not in their own private world.

    For that reason I agree that the public's right to know outweighs the immediate harms (if any) of outing Hupenthal. Further I agree that a well-placed question from a well-seeded reporter would have outed him -- much more subtly than Valerie Plame.

    There are rules. There are exceptions. Let's not be so quick to give up rules. Let's not be equally quick to disallow exceptions. I think the case has been well made that this was a good outing.

    E

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2014 @ 9:03pm

    It seems pretty straightforward. The newsworthiness of an elected official posting anonymously with crazy and offensive comments that the public should know came from him, published by a blog (which, contrary to what some people in the government think, is a form of the press that garners the protections of the 1st Amendment) to which he intentionally submitted such statements rather than mentioning them in private, supersedes any right that the elected official might have had in being protected in his anonymity for such speech.

     

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    MunkiLord (profile), Jul 10th, 2014 @ 9:20pm

    I don't feel any blog should be legally required to keep anyone anonymous unless they agree to do so of their own free will. That being said, I would be wary to trust site that outs anonymous commenters when they are not legally required to do so.

     

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    william (profile), Jul 10th, 2014 @ 10:36pm

    i am not against journalists outting the dirty laundry of politicians who deserve it. in this case i also agree that this is newsworthy.

    however, i am concerned about how a blog/forum/website would outst an anonymous commenter in general.

    so today you outst a anonymous commenter because you determine it's newsworthy. what if tomorrow you decide some anonymous commenter that's causing you some inconvinience is newsworthy? how about if you are flat out just don't like some commentator?

    it's difficult to decide if this really is a clear win in the long run

     

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    MrTroy (profile), Jul 10th, 2014 @ 10:42pm

    Whatever chilling effect arises from the outing of a Huppenthal, a chilling effect that I submit is minor or non-existent, is outweighed by the value to the public of the outing.

    Well, this is obviously your conclusion, but we already knew that by the fact that you posted as you did. And given that I haven't been in the same situation as you so I can't say for sure, I don't think I would have come to the same conclusion.

    I guess my biggest question is... if you're willing to "out" an anonymous commenter on your blog, why bother allowing anonymous or pseudonymous commenting at all? Presumably you have a bar over which the cost of outing a commenter "is outweighed by the value to the public", but is it something that you would document? How could a commenter on your blog tell what level of disagreement with your morals it would take to be identified to the community?

    Because to the wider internet, that seems to be what you have done. You (appear to) have autocratically made a decision as to the value to the public of outing your commenter and then acted on that decision - judge, jury and executioner, with no opportunity for due process from the person you are addressing. Of course, these aren't legal stakes, and you have every right to take whatever action you wish on your own site, subject to any agreements you have with your users.

    My biggest concern with your actions, and your justification above, is how it could be construed. Consider if Ed Snowden was your commenter, and you were on the side of the folks that consider his actions as directly damaging to national security... it's no large step to determine that the value to the public of outing such a dangerous character outweighs any chilling effect such an outing might create. This is of course a straw-man argument - you didn't do anything like this, and I offer apologies for bringing it up... but without due process, of course everyone considers themselves to be "in the right", and your professed justification would work just as well for the owner of a pro-NSA blog if Snowden happened to be making comments that went to contrary to the accepted wisdom on that forum.

    Would you consider rewording your justification for outing your commenter in such a way that it can't be used by anyone to justify whatever they happen to believe in? It truly sounds like Huppenthal was acting terribly, but I don't believe that justifies what amounts to vigilante justice.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2014 @ 10:54pm

    Re:

    I disagree vehemently, although I can understand where one would be cautious about this. This is a single act of intent designed solely to expose someone whose beliefs should not be valid in the classroom, excepting where valid and verifiable evidence tot he contrary comes in (Protip: unless the class in question is about religious doctrines, Holy Texts are not valid evidence).

    I'm a firm believer that anonymity should end where the incident causes clearly definable, provable harm. This does not include leaks, unless the leak leads in a direct chain to deaths.

     

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    ponkyhead, Jul 10th, 2014 @ 10:58pm

    anonymouse comments

    I disagree, an anonymous comment is just that and the commenter has the expectation of privacy. He may not actually believe in his comments and may just be floating a trial balloon to see how accepting some other commentators are or how they react, he may just be testing a new theory that wasnt supposed to be actually his position. There are many different reasons for comments, not just someones personal beliefs. I think no matter what you think of someones comments or anonymouse writings that they all deserve and expect their anonymous comments to be kept anonymous and stop having sites dig into who they may be. A politician may not believe or have as his postion the comments on his anonymous comments, or someone may have his password or be a member of his family might use his name or his ideas to twist his words and beliefs as well. Seriously, anonymous means anonymous and is not supposed to be linked to a person its linked to an idea, no matter how good or bad that may be. Anonymous postings can be used to gauge the mood of the people fairly accurately, in fact more accuratley than posts that expose a members name.
    The blog person did a disservice to the public and society by opening up the anonymous speach to exposure and surely will create a chilling effect on society, whether anyone admits this or not.

    Regards
    Anonymous

     

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    AnonCow, Jul 10th, 2014 @ 11:36pm

    I think it is wrong to do this after the fact. He had a presumption of anonymity when he made the posts. It was a politically motivated take down. More proof that bloggers are NOT journalists.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2014 @ 11:38pm

    I have a question to add to this...

    What (if anything) is the difference between other commenters managing to suss out this guy's identity through -whatever- means, and the site itself (assuming it has no guarantee of privacy in regard to such things, I'm not sure how this site is arranged) deciding to oust the person?

    For example, lets say I was this senators friend, family member, aquaintance, or I just happened to be reading over his shoulder as he posted. Is my right to oust him greater, lesser, the same even, as the sites admins?

    I don't actually have a viewpoint on this, but I'm curious how others feel on the matter.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2014 @ 11:54pm

    Rebuttal to Holocaust deniers

    Some time ago, I came across the argument that 6 million Jews couldn't have died in Europe during WWII, the basis was that there weren't that many in Europe. I then came across an argument that said that 6 million Jews dying was probably an underestimate. The author pointed out that he had looked into the number of civilian deaths and stated that the evidence said it was over the 100 million mark.

    To gauge the veracity of his statements, I did my own follow-up and found that he was not exaggerating. The basic records indicate that the death toll for civilians in WWII was for our purposes unimaginable. The death toll in the Asian theatre was just as horrific as in Europe. That a group of madmen targeted specific groups and attempted to annihilate them should not be surprising. The Jews and Gypsy's were not the only groups destroyed. It was a terrible time and disaster for humankind. The follow on events over the decades since only show that madmen want to rule and when they get that, they will destroy.

     

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    Whatever (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 12:44am

    It's a pretty sad commentary on the blogger universe when you can't even follow the rules you create for yourselves. If you allow anonymous posting, then it should be anonymous and end of discussion. Once that trust is breached, the community as a whole suffers.

    Considering how often the term "chilling effects" are tossed around on Techdirt, you would think that this guy outing the anonymous poster would get both barrels. Instead, he appears to be getting a medal.

     

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    MrTroy (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 12:44am

    Re:

    What (if anything) is the difference between other commenters managing to suss out this guy's identity through -whatever- means, and the site itself (assuming it has no guarantee of privacy in regard to such things, I'm not sure how this site is arranged) deciding to oust the person?
    I think it depends on the means, to some degree. If the commenter is identified by a third party because of something in the post, be it speech mannerisms or specific references, then they are welcome to share their observations.

    For example, lets say I was this senators friend, family member, aquaintance, or I just happened to be reading over his shoulder as he posted. Is my right to oust him greater, lesser, the same even, as the sites admins?
    Other than being a really crappy friend, I think this still isn't as bad as the website owner outing the guy.

    The basic difference is that the website owner has basically said "Here is a forum where you can speak your mind. You can use your own name, or take on a pseudonym if you prefer"... but then has later changed the social contract with an addendum "If I disagree with you/dislike your behaviour enough and know who you are, I will revoke your anonymity". There can be similar social constructs with your other scenarios (don't rat on your mates, family should stick together) that could make them just as bad, but it's all pretty subjective.

     

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    MrTroy (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 12:50am

    Re:

    It's a pretty sad commentary on the blogger universe when you can't even follow the rules you create for yourselves.
    The actions of one blogger does not extrapolate to the blogger universe, fortunately.

    If you allow anonymous posting, then it should be anonymous and end of discussion. Once that trust is breached, the community as a whole suffers.
    I happen to agree with you, but this discussion is the whole point - consider the first line of the article: "Was Blog for Arizona out of line for outing John Huppenthal as an anonymous commenter, as Mr. Geigner suggests in his recent post?"

    Considering how often the term "chilling effects" are tossed around on Techdirt, you would think that this guy outing the anonymous poster would get both barrels. Instead, he appears to be getting a medal.
    Seems about 50/50 to me, but I'd expect disagreement on a sensitive and subjective topic like this. There was disagreement in the comments section on the previous linked article, and the deeper link from that article, as well.

    But you've never been particularly interested in understanding what the discussion is about, have you?

     

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    G Thompson (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 1:00am

    I'm sorry and I can understand your reasonings but you are conflating what is done by outside outing to what you did which as a provider who retains a huge array of information (whether specifically identifying or not) about whom a poster is or isn't then outed that person which means you now have to under equity do this to every other anonymous poster (be they public figures or not) or be absilutely hypocritical.

    No matter what though you have destroyed the one thing that is sacrosanct and invaluable with any online platform that you allow a community to form within (be that a blog, forum, whatever). That intangible thing is TRUST.

    Without going into whether you had a specific duty under privacy rules you designed, implemented, spoke of or implied (that's a whole other can of legal worms under estoppel etc) you have shown that you will out your community members at YOUR whim (whatever reasoning behind it whether reasonable or not).

    Good luck getting that trust back I wish you well. Oh and if you think the community still trusts you either the community will stagnate if it's true or you are deluding yourself

     

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    Kaemaril (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 3:09am

    Anonymity?

    Does the blog actually guarantee true anonymity? I must admit I didn't dig too deeply into the site after I read their 'About' (not a good layout, imho), but all I could see was the usual Wordpress 'Name, email (which we don't disclose)' bit. I don't know if that's supposed to constitute a guarantee of full anonymity or whether that's just designed to stop people trawling for e-mail addresses ...

     

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    Applesauce, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 5:01am

    Can't trust that blog

    The website owner offered commentators the option of being anonymous, but later betrayed one of those commentators. Just because the commentator is an ignorant asshole doesn't change the fact that the website owner has proven himself untrustworthy.

     

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    Beta (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 5:03am

    "The issue here is not the right to anonymous speech. Nobody disputes that right. The issue is whether there is a right to anonymous speech... if the speaker is a public figure."

    So Bob Lord isn't disputing the right, he's just saying it doesn't apply to those who hold pubic office.

    ...And all the rest of his argument boils down to "he's a creep, so he should be exposed", which just shows that we should remind ourselves again that we should not undercut the rights of others just because we dislike them. How many times must we learn that lesson?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 5:15am

    Re:

    If you had stopped on your first paragraph you'd get full agreement from me.

    Considering how often the term "chilling effects" are tossed around on Techdirt, you would think that this guy outing the anonymous poster would get both barrels. Instead, he appears to be getting a medal.

    That attack was not needed. The original article (from Tim) already invited the community from a discussion. And Tim himself thinks it is troubling (much like you). What Techdirt did here was provide a channel for the other party to comment on their motivations and give their own point of view thus generating more welcome and fruitful discussion. Nobody is giving the guy a medal but rather allowing a good discussion to take part.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 5:21am

    Re:

    Agreed. If Mike ever outs somebody I'll be the first to stop commenting. Anonymity should be the default anyway but if the blog itself builds its community on this foundation then it should be the default all the way. At some points Mike did call some trolls here for their actions and this call coupled with the writing style and specific places where such troll posted lead to the identity itself but it's all a trail of evidence (much like a reporter). I'd guess that getting a reporter to connect the dots with facts from the comments themselves would have been much, much better.

     

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    blaktron (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 5:25am

    Blogger owned the information

    People are anonymous on blogs because they are allowed to be by the owner of the site. End of story. Don't want your racist leanings public? Don't give that information to someone! End of story.

    You guys are attributing to a blogger the sacred trust that we carry with a lawyer or doctor. Which is insane. He had absolutely no duty to this guy to keep his name secret, and I'm not sure why anyone thinks he did? So strange.

    Was there anything on his site explicitly stating that anonymous comments would never be exposed? Did he sign an NDA? No? Then buzz off, Blog of Arizona is 100% correct in what they did.

     

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    Casey, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:00am

    Re: Anonymity?

    That is a good question. From a truly legal, and ability, point of view the answer is No. Without a doubt if there was a situation that required lawyers or police to be involved, the owner may be required to turn over logs, comments, or other documents so that the identity of the poster(s) can be determined.

    However, baring those intrusions, the answer should be Yes. As G Thompson stated above, "No matter what though you have destroyed the one thing that is sacrosanct and invaluable with any online platform that you allow a community to form within (be that a blog, forum, whatever). That intangible thing is TRUST."

    Honestly, I think the outing of politician, even one with as crazy a thoughts as this one has more chilling effects on the blog than imagined. I know that I am not going to be visiting it anytime soon, just because I don't like the obvious double standard that is present from the owner of the blog.

    The question that Bob Lord needs to answer with honesty is what if Huppenthal was his good friend, would he "out" him then or once he figured out who it was would he keep it quiet.

     

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    Casey, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:09am

    Re: Blogger owned the information

    "You guys are attributing to a blogger the sacred trust that we carry with a lawyer or doctor. Which is insane. He had absolutely no duty to this guy to keep his name secret, and I'm not sure why anyone thinks he did? So strange."

    Because the expectation is there. Anonymous does not include -"unless I don't like what you are thinking/saying/typing" as part of the definition.

    "Was there anything on his site explicitly stating that anonymous comments would never be exposed? Did he sign an NDA? No? Then buzz off, Blog of Arizona is 100% correct in what they did."

    Of course there was not. But the ability to post anonymously is there. So the implied part is that the poster is ANONYMOUS to everyone and that the poster wont be tracked down. If Mr. Lord wanted to, he could have set it up so that peoples names and email addresses were seen by everyone. But he didn't. Don't cop out because he didn't "sign an NDA". That's just cheap.

     

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    andypandy, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:13am

    Re: anonymouse comments

    I agree 110% with this, as someone who just makes the odd comment on things i disagree with!!! I sometimes stand on the side that is demonized by the majority. if i am under threat of being outed i might not disagree with the wider consensus and that is direct blocking of free speech.

    Yes sites like this that discuss arguments that have three sides should never out an anonymous commenter as then you are outing possible professionals that might be saying things they would not in public as they are so far removed from the public viewpoint, but do manage to get the conversation going anew and possibly in a direction the blogger did not foresee, yes i agree with reporting those that profess criminal intentions and admit to nefarious actions if they are really bad but other than that no outing of someone who wants to comment anonymously..

    Now for me personally, i am just a guy (with a family) behind a keyboard with no reason to fear being outed other than it pointing the crazy to who i am and where i live, and possible ramifications from those that believe so strongly in their views,and with a touch of insanity, they would possibly attack me in person.And before anyone says nonsense just read some stories about people getting Swat sent to their doors.

    So i retain my privacy and i hope this site and any others i comment on respect that.

    Just to prove that this is not bullshit, i received a message from Google when logging into my email that someone had been trying to access my email from Israel. And what did i do to deserve this attempt to access all my emails, i wrote a few comments strongly worded i admit about the wrongfulness of attacking GAZA indiscriminately and killing children.This i did as is my right to do and within hours i find my email being hacked.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:30am

    Re:

    I think it is wrong to do this after the fact. He had a presumption of anonymity when he made the posts. It was a politically motivated take down. More proof that bloggers are NOT journalists.

    You do realize that in our initial post, we pointed out that the last time this happened, it was because a newspaper did the same thing, right?

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100326/1533358738.shtml

    Saying that this is "blogging" vs. "journalists" is just silly. These days, there's little difference.

     

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    blaktron (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:32am

    Re: Re: Blogger owned the information

    So the guys expectations were wrong, and he got burned? So its the site's fault? You said it yourself, it was due to an expectation. Expectation can be false. There was absolutely NO duty for Blog of Arizona to keep this guy' identity secret. Just like Mike has no duty to anyone but himself when it comes to our identities.

    If he had wanted to ensure his anonymity he should have protected his identity. He did not. He merely did not expose it deliberately. There is a BIG difference, and the fault lies with him, not the blog.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:33am

    Just a question

    As people debate this, let's ask a hypothetical that may or may not have some basis in reality.

    Let's say that through a variety of circumstances, *not* involving looking at IP addresses or whatever private info I have, I discovered that one of the chief trolls on the site, was actually Chris Dodd? Or, perhaps, the MPAA's legislative director.

    Personally, I wouldn't out them. But I think a pretty good case could be made that (1) it's potentially newsworthy that they're trying to hide their identity and (2) that others on the site might benefit from that knowledge as well. Again, I don't think for *this* site those two factors would outweigh the fact that they should be allowed to comment anonymously, but it's not entirely clearcut, and I can easily understand why other sites go other ways.

    For that reason, there are times when I have asked commenters if they'd like to reveal who they work for, because it seems that they have an undeclared bias. They never seem to take me up on it. :)

     

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    Michael, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:49am

    Re: Just a question

    It seems to me that you value the trust of your audience more than Blog for Arizona.

    There may be some line you will not cross - hopefully we will never know what it is, but I would guess that if someone was posting comments that they were going to harm someone or themselves, you would be on the phone with the police giving them everything you have to try to stop it.

    Blog for Arizona made a choice - they felt that the harm caused by not revealing the commenter outweighed the value of the trust their community had in being able to maintain anonymity. It seems to me that it is fine for a blog to do this, and they will suffer some consequences when they do.

    Knowing what the line will be would be nice, but it is also impossible to anticipate what people will do and say, so to create guidelines that let people know when they will lose their anonymity does not seem feasible.

    It is a cautionary tale, but not an internet-specific one. If you rely on people to maintain your anonymity, you need to have some expectation that there is some limit.

     

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    Rocco Maglio (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:50am

    More partisan

    I wonder if the person had been of the Blog of Arizona's political persuasion and saying crazy stuff if the Blog of Arizona would still have outed them. I doubt they would have. So now we are going to have people afraid to cross over and comment on blogs that have a differing view. So we are going to have echo chambers where only one set of ideas are presented. This is going to cause people to become even more partisan.

     

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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Blogger owned the information

    So the guys expectations were wrong, and he got burned? So its the site's fault?

    You're asking the wrong question (IMO). The question is, what effect will this action have on the blog's community?

     

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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:01am

    he was so careless that his identity could be ascertained from the comments themselves, with no reference to the IP addresses we had,

    Is this where you outed him?

    http://blogforarizona.net/does-anyone-actually-like-john-huppenthal/

    Because you didn't present any evidence there, you just stated the user's identity authoritatively. As a user, I would have assumed that such a statement comes from your special knowledge as the blog operator. If you had presented a case based solely on publicly available information, this would be a different story.

    Otherwise, imposing some sort of legal gag order on bloggers does not seem the way to go.

    Nobody is suggesting gag orders, people are pointing out that there are consequences to this sort of outing.

    Whatever chilling effect arises from the outing of a Huppenthal, a chilling effect that I submit is minor or non-existent, is outweighed by the value to the public of the outing.

    One problem is it's impossible to know what the chilling effect is - that's how they work. The effect would be someone who would have posted something anonymously to your blog (or perhaps even to some other blog - there's no telling what wells have been poisoned), but now decides not to for fear of being exposed. There's no way to measure that. You've decided that risk is worth it, but I hope that you at least carefully considered the risk before deciding.

     

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    BentFranklin (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:01am

    Mr. Lord stated he did the outing based solely on information in the posts, not on the IP address or anything else available only to admins. The only difference is that he was close enough to the blog to have observed all this information, but any regular reader could have done the same. So, I'm satisfied, and this whole issue is a non-issue for me.

     

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  32.  
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    Lord_Unseen (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:10am

    Re: Can't trust that blog

    Exactly, he had the right to unmask the guy, and the politician sounds about as scummy as you can get, but in doing that, the blog lost the trust of every person who has an interest in staying anonymous. Unfortunately for him, trust isn't something you can rationalize back into existence.

     

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  33.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Re:

    Mr. Lord stated he did the outing based solely on information in the posts, not on the IP address or anything else available only to admins.

    Do you have a link? Because so far I have not seen that.

     

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  34.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Can't trust that blog

    Unfortunately for him, trust isn't something you can rationalize back into existence.

    Well put. :-)

     

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  35.  
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    Erik Grant, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:46am

    I am disappointed to have to agree with Tim. This elected official sounds grossly incompetent and borderline insane. It pains me to think I support a position that means he might go unnoticed while he continue to make important decisions at the state level.

    Unfortunately, in reading the response of BFA, they make a really important distinction that is REALLY REALLY bad:

    I have knowledge that an elected official who is up for re-election, John Huppenthal, is a racist who believes the Holocaust was more the work of Darwin than of Hitler

    I don't think they should get to base their decision to preserve his anonymity based on how much they agree or disagree with what he was saying. If the argument that he is a public official and doesn't have the same rights to privacy is a regular person, then fine, make the argument and let it stand. But making judgment calls based on the quality of his speech and the ideas contained within is a very dangerous precedent.

     

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  36.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:48am

    Re: Just a question

    Reminds me of an episode where Reddit managed to uncover the identity of some anonymous commenters without relying on administrative privileges. Sounds like the same to me. I'm sure you smiled at yourself a few times with those trolls when looking at the tech details because it only confirmed what you suspected. So if there is a perceived need sometimes the community itself will follow the bread crumbs and find the identity.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:51am

    Yes

    Was Blog for Arizona out of line for outing John Huppenthal as an anonymous commenter, as Mr. Geigner suggests in his recent post?


    I believe it was, yes. It's not a major, earth-shattering transgression, but it is, at the very least, incredibly rude and qualifies as out of line in my opinion. It also reduces my trust in sites that do this -- after all, you can always trust that someone will treat you just the same as they treat others.

     

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  38.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:56am

    Re: Anonymity?

    You're arguing something more like legality. This isn't a question of legality, it's a question of whether or not it was right to do it.

     

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    Gwiz, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:57am

    The bottom line: We don't need to make it any easier for creeps like John Huppenthal to go undetected. A risk of detection is inherent in anonymous speech. Whatever chilling effect arises from the outing of a Huppenthal, a chilling effect that I submit is minor or non-existent, is outweighed by the value to the public of the outing.

    IMHO, this slope is way too slippery for you to be tip-toeing across the ridge like that. Consider if the tables were turned and it was some porn site you visited anonymously decided to out your true identity because of their perceived "value to the public" in knowing that a known blogger surfs porn?

     

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  40.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 7:59am

    Re: Re: Just a question

    "I would guess that if someone was posting comments that they were going to harm someone or themselves, you would be on the phone with the police giving them everything you have to try to stop it."

    If it were my blog, I probably wouldn't (although I might try to engage them privately). People say all kinds of crazy shit in comments all the time. I would have no reason to take comments like that any more seriously than any other. To just up and give information to the police (of all people!) based on random nutty comments seems irresponsible to me.

     

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  41.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    I hate it when Techdirt suddenly logs me out in the middle of writing a comment.

    The above comment is mine.

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 8:15am

    Re: Just a question

    Let me propose a slight change to your scenario. Let's say that the situation was, as you said, Chris Dodd WAS indeed commenting on Techdirt and making comments with definitive public clues that pointed to his identity, yet instead of reporting that Chris Dodd was the anonymous commenter, you posted a speculative story that merely stated that there was evidence to suggest that he might be the commenter supported by citing only the evidence that was publicly available. Would there be any issue with that?

     

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  43.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 8:22am

    Re: Just a question

    "But I think a pretty good case could be made that (1) it's potentially newsworthy that they're trying to hide their identity"

    Meh, I don't see why that's newsworthy at all. In fact, I would HOPE that our elected and un-elected officials would partake in the same democratic and/or online presence and process that the rest of us do. That would be ENCOURAGING to me. The beauty of anonymous comments is that it levels the playing field in the battleground of ideas. Chris Dodd commenting anonymously means nobody can be for or against his ideas/comments strictly because he's Chris Dodd. Let the ideas fall where they may.

    "(2) that others on the site might benefit from that knowledge as well."

    Again, I don't see how. All having the name attached does for the community is introduce the potential for bias in response to the ideas. It means that many people will disagree w/anything stated simply because the name Chris Dodd (BLECH!) is attached to them. That's seems to be a disservice, not a benefit.

     

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  44.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Just a question

    Let's say that the situation was, as you said, Chris Dodd WAS indeed commenting on Techdirt and making comments with definitive public clues that pointed to his identity, yet instead of reporting that Chris Dodd was the anonymous commenter, you posted a speculative story that merely stated that there was evidence to suggest that he might be the commenter supported by citing only the evidence that was publicly available. Would there be any issue with that?

    I wouldn't have a problem with that.

     

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    Rocco Maglio (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 8:37am

    Re: Rationalize away

    If he outed all politicians that would be one thing. He outed a politician in part because he did not agree with his politics. If you are a political operative that is one thing, but do not claim to be doing it for a higher moral purpose. You are doing it to further your political ends.

    This reminds me of when Brian Ross who is the Head of Investigative Reporting for ABC News bought the list of clients of the DC Madam (I keep hearing they do not pay for news stories). He then only released the names of Republicans, because they took a stance on morality and this made them hypocrites. If Brian Ross had been a Republican operative not a Democratic one he could have only released the names of Democrats since they have taken a stance supporting woman's rights and this made them hypocrites.

    So you are either a reporter or a political operative. If you are a political operative you can behave in a partisan manner, if you are a reporter you cannot. The guy who runs this blog is a political operative and should be treated accordingly.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    The news loophole is WAY too big. While I agree with his comments about the differences in burden of proof for public officials in cases of defamation between public officials and generally unknown individuals and the reasons for such, however, I do not agree with the "it is newsworthy simply because the person is famous" as a valid justification for the invasion of someone's privacy. The news loophole was originally created for a very good reason - public safety. It was created to protect those who disseminate important news to the public, especially in times of danger, from being held liable for using the words and images of those who appear in the report and incumbering them with having to get permission from those people in order to report the news in the public's interest. Note that the public's best interest is not the same thing as what the public is interested in. Yet this is how this is being exploited for profit by those who claim to report the news. Public figures do have a right to privacy just like everyone else. They also have a right to free and anonymous speech just like everyone else. If they leave clues that point to their identity in their anonymous comments, people are free to speculate about that though as well. But there is where the line should be.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: Just a question

    Furthermore, some may say that it's the same effect just tap dancing with careful phrasing you words. But how you say something directly affects what you say and can make a big difference. Implication supported by facts even if it is false is not defamation. Let's just say for the sake of argument that Huppenthal didn't make the comments but rather was the victim of someone else within the government attempting to make it look like he did in order to make him look bad. I the blogger simply stated that the following evidence suggests that he made was the one behind the comments, only opinions and facts have been stated. However, if the blogger states that he made the comments and stronger evidence surfaces later that proves that he did not. The blogger has made a statement of fact that was indeed proven false. There's a big difference there.

     

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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 9:03am

    Re: Re: Rationalize away

    If Brian Ross had been a Republican operative not a Democratic one he could have only released the names of Democrats since they have taken a stance supporting woman's rights and this made them hypocrites.

    Not to defend Ross (assuming you're correct), but how is visiting a prostitute incompatible with supporting women's rights?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 9:43am

    Suppose Blog for Arizona did not expose Huppenthal directly, but instead had one of our writers speak off the record to a reporter, who then called Huppenthal out based on a confidential source and asked Huppenthal to request that Blog for Arizona publicize all its information. Huppenthal would have no practical choice but to comply, or just fess up. So, unless we're willing to encroach upon the freedom of the press, the protection of anonymous commenters could not be complete to the degree Mr. Geigner desires.


    You seem to ignore that in this situation you would STILL be outing the politician. Routing it through a third party reporter doesn't change anything. And to say that you could do it without getting caught also doesn't change the morality of the action.

    Anyway, lots of things are reported on by reporters that are supposed to be secret. Grand jury investigations, for example, were recently leaked to a local paper, which means the leaker broke the law. By your logic this means we can't attempt secrecy in grand jury investigations or we can't have freedom of the press. It does mean we can't be perfect in both, but it doesn't mean we can't attempt to have both.

    The issue is whether there is a right to anonymous speech with zero risk of being exposed, even if the speaker is a public figure.


    Of course the answer to that is "no", but that doesn't mean much. I do not dispute that you had the right to out him. I dispute whether you SHOULD have.

    And frankly, public figures are the ones who need anonymity the most. If I used my real name, nobody much would care. But imagine Obama trying to post on a forum under his real name.

    If I publish an unfavorable statement against Joe Sixpack, Joe only need show the statement was false in a suit for defamation. But if I make the same statement about an elected official, he has to show not only that the statement was false, but that I made it with reckless disregard for the truth.


    Correct. If we were to follow this analogy, then what you did would be analogous to publishing an article about a public figure without fact-checking. Protected, yes, but not a good idea and not something that will inspire confidence in your readers.

    imposing some sort of legal gag order on bloggers does not seem the way to go.


    I do agree with that. What you did should not be illegal, merely frowned upon.

     

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  50.  
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    Chris Dodd, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    Re: Just a question

    Please stop talking about outing me.

    - Chris Dodd

     

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  51.  
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    Matthew A. Sawtell, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 10:03am

    Is anyone truly surprised at this?

    Beyond the usual questions and references to historic events, can anyone truly be surprised at this turn of events? There is no such thing as being 'Anonymous on the Internet' because there is always a trail (of some sort) to follow back to a tablet, laptop, desktop, or terminal. What would have really 'shocking' would be if this elected offical said his piece out in the open, and was re-elected by a wide margin.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    Re: Is anyone truly surprised at this?

    There is no such thing as being 'Anonymous on the Internet' because there is always a trail (of some sort) to follow back to a tablet, laptop, desktop, or terminal.


    Actually, there are ways to not leave a trail.

    Tor is one example, it routes through other connections and obscures your true IP pretty well. Combine that with Tails, which, via a USB boot-up, uses Tor and assures no traces are left on the host computer.

    Add in MAC spoofing and using a no-login public access point and you are pretty much untraceable as long as you aren't stupid enough to login into your everyday email or Facebook account or something like that.

     

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  53.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 12:02pm

    IMHO

    In my humble opinion:

    1. Everyone has the right to attempt to be anonymous in their writings.

    2. The general person has no duty to respect that anonymity, it's on the author to do the work and do it well.

    3. Outing tends to have a chilling effect on public discourse, good people won't do it casually or for lulz.

    4. It's more likely that an outing is moral when the outer is themselves not anonymous (like a leaker/whistleblower, see Snowden).

    5. Some forums have policies against outing, and some forum operators have bound themselves by such code, creating a legal "expectation of privacy" by forum users and creating a duty of care by the forum operator to protect that privacy.

    6. Absent such a policy or code, a forum that allows anonymous postings has no special legal duty to maintain that anonymity (see 2), but forums that don't tend to get a bad reputation (see 3).

    7. The real world is messy and complicated and rights and moral obligations sometimes conflict with other rights and moral obligations, creating exceptions (e.g. it's moral for the owner to burn most private property, but not if it's a Van Gogh painting or a living cat). Absolutist zealots tend to suck.

    8. Whether an outing is moral or not depends upon specific facts of the situation. A "balance of harms" test is one way of evaluating the morality of an act that harms an individual (by outing them, or whatever). For example, we often consider killing another human in defense of an innocent to be moral.

    9. Everyone's going to evaluate "balance of harms" differently, so a potential outer needs to be careful that the community won't see things the way they do. This "chilling effect" on outing is a good thing. (And a political outing WILL get viewed through partisan blinders.)

    10. I personally see a substantial harm to our democracy when a politician's public persona and actual beliefs are sharply divergent, particularly when those beliefs are likely to impact the way that politician's duties get carried out and what policies get enacted.

    11. In sum, I see the Huppenthal outing as "not so bad, possibly good". However, I'm at enough distance and not part of the relevant forum, so I actually don't care to take the time to dig further to refine my judgment, though I encourage politically active Arizonans to do so, and if you come to a different answer, consider shunning the relevant forum.

     

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  54.  
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    MatBastardson (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Is anyone truly surprised at this?

    Maybe, but if a blog allows the option to comment anonymously, it should either honor the poster's wish to remain anonymous, or publish a disclaimer over the comments section in huge red letters: "WARNING! COMMENTS POSTED ANONYMOUSLY MAY NOT REMAIN ANONYMOUS IF WE DETERMINE THE CONTENT TO BE OFFENSIVE. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF COMMENTERS TO GUESS OUR CRITERIA REGARDING OFFENSIVENESS."

    I presume TechDirt shares this person's policy on anonymity, as you so prominently feature his justification for violating it. Might be useful to your many anonymous commenters if you posted a clear policy regarding the matter.

    And before anyone jumps on me, I hate Nazis too.

     

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    BentFranklin (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re:

    He states "...he was so careless that his identity could be ascertained from the comments themselves, with no reference to the IP addresses we had"

     

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  56.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Re: Just a question

    Let me propose a slight change to your scenario. Let's say that the situation was, as you said, Chris Dodd WAS indeed commenting on Techdirt and making comments with definitive public clues that pointed to his identity, yet instead of reporting that Chris Dodd was the anonymous commenter, you posted a speculative story that merely stated that there was evidence to suggest that he might be the commenter supported by citing only the evidence that was publicly available. Would there be any issue with that?

    We'd get hounded for posting such a speculative story.

     

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  57.  
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    nasch (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    He states "...he was so careless that his identity could be ascertained from the comments themselves, with no reference to the IP addresses we had"

    He claimed that, yes, but I haven't seen him actually demonstrate it.

     

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  58.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2014 @ 2:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Just a question

    I think for anyone short of a real fanatic, there is a line. Consider the following (hopefully ridiculous) situation:

    A nuclear weapon has been stolen. Someone posts anonymously, claiming to have the device and imminent plans to use it. The post includes details that have not been publicized (for argument's sake, the serial number, say) and details how the poster plans to circumvent the security measures and detonate the device. The blog owner gets a call from a friend in the military, who is in a position to know, who says "OMG, Mike {say...}, that's the number of the broken arrow and that procedure WOULD set it off...". Should our hypothetical Mike break the poster's anonymity by contacting law enforcement without waiting for due process?

    I would say not just "yes" but "hell, yes". I would hope most would agree. If so, there is a line for each blog that you cannot cross and retain anonymity, the question is "where" not "if".

     

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    beltorak (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:22pm

    Re:

    Here Here!

    As much as I dislike how my judgement on this matter is falling, you make one of the better points.

    Let us suppose for a moment that he loses his seat over this and let us say for the sake of argument that that is a good thing. Now let us also suppose (in an alternate universe) he decides not to comment on an anonymous blog, and therefore he retains his seat. Do his radically dangerous ideas go away? Does he lose the ability to affect thousands or millions of other lives in his capacity as a public servant? No, the only thing that results from this chain of events is that we, the public, aren't made aware of his insanity until he does something and it is too late to stop it.

    But the ends does not justify the means. Because there will always be crazy in the halls of power, and we must learn to spot these bad philosophies, to destroy the positions, without the deus ex machina gifting us a revelation. We must be able to defeat these philosophies in the theater of ideas, not through personal scandals. Because there won't always be a convenient scandal to remove from us the necessity of strengthening our arguments.

     

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    beltorak (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 6:34pm

    Re: Re: Is anyone truly surprised at this?

    > I presume TechDirt shares this person's policy on anonymity, as you so prominently feature his justification for violating it.

    You presume too much. Maybe you missed the first post (or only skimmed it); Tim made the first post to start a debate. He said flat out in the first paragraph:


    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....


    And this post (as indicated by the intro) is an effort to continue that debate by letting the blogger give his reasons for doing what he did, so we don't have to speculate. Even the subtitle of this article - the debate is on - points that out. (Although, to be fair, the subtitles are usually snarky and sarcastic....)

     

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    G Thompson (profile), Jul 11th, 2014 @ 10:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just a question

    Again there is a MAJOR difference both ethically and legally in contacting an actual legal authority for egregious & illegal behaviour and let the authorities deal with the information then releasing the same information to the world at large.

    If the authorities want to release that info to the world, that is their choice. Mike releasing it to the community (and therefore the world) without appropriate control mechanisms (ie: the legal authority) is another matter entirely.

    It comes down to the ethical conundrum of duty of care, Mike's major duty in relation to Techdirt is to the community since they are the major stakeholder in his business model. Without the trust that he has built up through sweat, frustrations (and trolls) with the community TD would NOT be the place it is today (and hopefully for a long time to come).

    "Outing" someone to the appropriate and legal mechanisms that Govt bodies have (no matter what you may or not think of their controls) is absolutely and entirely different. It's a non-issue, the community (any community) would expect it to happen and be aghast if it didn't (that includes such things as suicide threats or any imminent threats as well) but outing to the wider TD community and the world based on his (or his staff's) whim because HE thinks it might be newsworthy that's an instant violation of trust.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2014 @ 5:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Just a question

    That actually wasn't what I meant. Regardless of what you think public reaction would be, I was looking for an opinion on the ethics of such a post.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2014 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Just a question

    And sure the usual naysayers and trolls would come out of the woodwork, but that isn't any different than any other time. However, if only publicly available information was presented as evidence, I don't think the reaction from the core community would necessarily be as negative as you think.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 12th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just a question

    I was talking about a case of someone expressing suicidal ideation in a comment specifically, but I agree -- there is no blanket rule that would always apply. That's why there should be no law about it.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 12th, 2014 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Just a question

    "Would there be any issue with that?"

    It would make me very, very uncomfortable.

     

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    GEMont, Jul 12th, 2014 @ 10:38pm

    Re: Re: Just a question

    Agreed.

    Its called free speech.

    If newsworthiness of an identity is an acceptable excuse for the host outing someone who was told they could post anonymously, and if outing an anonymous poster as a benefit to other posters can be considered as a valid reason for the host disclosing a poster's identity, then why not admit that any other reason that might present itself to the host as an excuse for outing an anonymous poster is absolutely acceptable and entirely eliminates the idea of anonymity.

    This thing of ours - the internet - was created with anonymity built in for a very valid reason, and it has grown and thrived beyond anyone's wildest dreams because of that anonymity.

    Once you begin finding excuses to remove it for "certain" posters, or "certain" reasons, you have started the process of ending it and of ending that which makes the internet so absolutely incredible. You have also begun to limit the style, quality, content and subject matter that the site allows to be spoken of freely.

    Even if a poster declares on an anonymous site that they are planning to assassinate a public figure, or kill a neighbor, the host need not disclose the identity to other posters - only to the police.

    In my opinion, if you, as a web-site host, feel that there might be some reasons that an anonymous user can be outed, then you should post that fact, clearly on the website as "limited anonymity", or not offer anonymity at all.

    There are many other ways to deal with unruly posters that do not necessitate disclosure of their real identity and that work far better to maintain the quality of the site.

    To do otherwise, is to destroy your site's integrity, permanently and to put another nail in the coffin of free speech.

     

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    GEMont, Jul 12th, 2014 @ 11:04pm

    Re: Re: Is anyone truly surprised at this?

    "Actually, there are ways to not leave a trail."

    Actually, if the NSA and GCHQ and their respective governments do not bring the internet (or society itself) crashing to the ground in the next ten years, I think that "not leaving a paper-trail" will become standard operating procedure for the internet and most other forms of communications.

    The sudden realization that the world's governments, corporations and other institutions are actively spying on all of us through the very means by which we inter-communicate, has awoken a new and desperately needed mind-set among the common populations of the earth.

    Even as some groups of uncaring enterprisers feed at the teat of our monster institutions to aid them in making the world less secure for the non-billionaires, other groups, less well know and often completely unknown, work hard to create a world where such massive surveillance is either impossible or comes at a cost that overwhelms even the big player's budgets.

    If our communications, be they anonymous or open, are secretly available to all and sundry, then free speech is dead and human communications and thus its future, faces a severe threat.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 13th, 2014 @ 9:58am

    "if you come to a different answer, consider shunning the relevant forum."

    I am neither an Arizonan nor a reader of that blog, so my opinion means nothing to it. But when blogs I do read have done this sort of thing in the past, I tend to stop reading them. This sort of act demonstrates a profound disrespect for the blog' readership and indicates that it is risky to put much trust in them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2014 @ 5:32pm

    offline analogy says ... no foul

    If Dude had mailed a crazy letter to the NY times, and not signed the letter, but included his return address (not his name) on the envelope ... and the Times had printed the letter ... would the Times be in violation of journalistic ethics if it used the information on the envelope to figure out Dude's identity, and - having determined it was newsworthy, which it surely is - publish it? I think not.

    What's the difference here?

     

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  70.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2014 @ 5:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just a question

    "...gets a call from a friend in the military..." who would then go on to inform the proper authorities and "Mike" would be contacted without calling anyone.

     

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

  71.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2014 @ 6:00pm

    Re: Re:

    By the same token, if you post on my blog and I haven't given any guarantee that I will keep your anonymity, you are taking a chance that I will reveal who you are. If you want to stay anonymous and post things like this man did, do it on your own site, or one that guarantees they will never reveal who you are.

     

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

  72.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2014 @ 6:06pm

    Re: Re: anonymouse comments

    Your right to free speech is guaranteed against government interference. Your rights end where others' begin. On a private site like a blog, you have no expectation of anonymity or privacy unless specifically stated by the owner of the site. While I'm all for defending rights, why should your's supersede those of another?

     

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

  73.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2014 @ 6:13pm

    Re: Is anyone truly surprised at this?

    "There is no such thing as being 'Anonymous on the Internet' because there is always a trail (of some sort) to follow back to a tablet, laptop, desktop, or terminal."

    Can I borrow your laptop for 5 minutes? No thanks, I don't need your password, I'll just use this LiveCD.

     

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

  74.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jul 15th, 2014 @ 3:21pm

    Re: offline analogy says ... no foul

    "What's the difference here?"

    You seriously don't know?? Wow!

    Did the NY Times tell anyone that they would remain anonymous if they sent a crazy letter to them with their return address on the envelope?
    Did they state anywhere, at any time, that they would not attempt to determine the identity of someone who mailed a self-addressed crazy letter to them?

    No.

    Did the Arizona Blog state that user posts would remain anonymous? Did they neglect to mention that anonymity was dependant upon the site owner's sense of morality or values?

    Yes.

    Did you catch the difference?

     

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

  75.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2014 @ 11:20am

    If you post on someone's blog, they can out you and in fact, Mike has done it here at Techdirt.

    Why doesn't a reporter reveal his source? Because no one would ever talk to that reporter again. Reporters reveal their sources all the time if the story is good enough.

    A lot of the comments seem to echo the theme "The ends justify the means".

     

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

  76.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Jul 18th, 2014 @ 12:30pm

    Re:

    in fact, Mike has done it here at Techdirt.

    Got a link for that?

     

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

  77.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jul 18th, 2014 @ 12:31pm

    Re:

    "If you post on someone's blog, they can out you and in fact, Mike has done it here at Techdirt."

    I've not seen that.
    Can you cite the event - post a link?

    If you're referring to associating a sock puppet poster's other pseudonym handles, I think that's a good idea.

    Regardless of that, If you post on someone's blog, where they have explicitly stated that posts can be anonymous, and they expose your real name because you deem it newsworthy, or to inform other posters of the ruse of sock-puppetry, then you can expect a large drop in posting on that blog because you have just killed your own integrity.

    Nobody has stated that a "Blog Cannot Out a Poster", or that its illegal or anything like that. Only that its misleading to offer anonymity and then remove that offer without notice, and that its self defeating if your blog depends on posters posting honest comments.

    "Why doesn't a reporter reveal his source? Because no one would ever talk to that reporter again. Reporters reveal their sources all the time if the story is good enough."

    Someone sending an unsigned crazy letter, with a return address on the envelope to a newspaper, does not constitute a journalist's "source".

    In the real world, the ends seldom justifies the means. It is simply that this claim is usually the only defense available.

     

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

  78.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jul 18th, 2014 @ 12:36pm

    Re: Re:

    distractions....

    ...above statement should have read as below.

    "Regardless of that, If you post on someone's blog, where they have explicitly stated that posts can be anonymous, and they expose your real name because they deem it newsworthy, or to inform other posters of the ruse of sock-puppetry, then they can expect a large drop in posting on that blog because they have just killed their own integrity."

     

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

  79.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jul 19th, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    Re:

    We are still waiting for that link to an outing by Mike here on TechDirt.

    Even the topic under which it occurred and an approximate timeline would be better than nothing at all.

     

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

  80.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jul 20th, 2014 @ 11:52pm

    Re: Re:

    "If you post on someone's blog, they can out you and in fact, Mike has done it here at Techdirt.

    No link forthcoming....

    Only Silence from this Anonymous Coward....

    Gee what a surprise!!

     

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

 
Whatever chilling effect arises from the outing of a Huppenthal, a chilling effect that I submit is minor or non-existent, is outweighed by the value to the public of the outing.

Well, this is obviously your conclusion, but we already knew that by the fact that you posted as you did. And given that I haven't been in the same situation as you so I can't say for sure, I don't think I would have come to the same conclusion.

I guess my biggest question is... if you're willing to "out" an anonymous commenter on your blog, why bother allowing anonymous or pseudonymous commenting at all? Presumably you have a bar over which the cost of outing a commenter "is outweighed by the value to the public", but is it something that you would document? How could a commenter on your blog tell what level of disagreement with your morals it would take to be identified to the community?

Because to the wider internet, that seems to be what you have done. You (appear to) have autocratically made a decision as to the value to the public of outing your commenter and then acted on that decision - judge, jury and executioner, with no opportunity for due process from the person you are addressing. Of course, these aren't legal stakes, and you have every right to take whatever action you wish on your own site, subject to any agreements you have with your users.

My biggest concern with your actions, and your justification above, is how it could be construed. Consider if Ed Snowden was your commenter, and you were on the side of the folks that consider his actions as directly damaging to national security... it's no large step to determine that the value to the public of outing such a dangerous character outweighs any chilling effect such an outing might create. This is of course a straw-man argument - you didn't do anything like this, and I offer apologies for bringing it up... but without due process, of course everyone considers themselves to be "in the right", and your professed justification would work just as well for the owner of a pro-NSA blog if Snowden happened to be making comments that went to contrary to the accepted wisdom on that forum.

Would you consider rewording your justification for outing your commenter in such a way that it can't be used by anyone to justify whatever they happen to believe in? It truly sounds like Huppenthal was acting terribly, but I don't believe that justifies what amounts to vigilante justice.
—MrTroy

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