from the macron-would-prefer-a-more-totalitarian-democracy-apparently dept
A world leader not known for shying away from truly terrible ideas about speech and the internet is back at it again. A few years ago, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered, as Cathy Gellis put it, “a speech only an autocrat would love,” decrying pretty much everything that’s good and open about the internet while trying to portray his ideas as necessary to societal development.
To summarize his general view on the subject: sure, we don’t want certain ideas to be marginalized. We should defend people’s access to the Internet, he said, but not always. He interprets the term “neutrality” to mean that all ideas have to be treated equally, but, in his view, some ideas are more equal than others. And this is what so offends him: net neutrality allows those who do not share “our values” to spread their ideas too.
The bad ideas have flowed nonstop from Macron and the French government. Everyone seems to think the internet must be more regulated. Any additional regulation should align with their views, rather than the views of the people they serve. And, while Macron is the nominal king, online anonymity should be the first against the wall.
Macron still believes online anonymity is a direct threat to society. And he has chosen to defend this view with one of the worst analogies ever deployed by a politician.
French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated his opposition to online anonymity, and stated that he will not close the door on the idea of dismantling platforms. EURACTIV France reports.
“In a democratic society, there should be no anonymity. You can’t walk around in the street wearing a hood. On the Internet, people allow themselves, because they are hooded behind a pseudonym, to say the worst abjections,” the outgoing president told Le Point on Tuesday (12 April), two weeks before the second round of the presidential elections.
As Euractiv points out, this would be the third time in four years Macron has stated online anonymity is a luxury his country can do without.
But his analogy makes no sense.
First, there’s a very good chance someone can walk down the street wearing a hood, no matter what aggressive (and potentially unlawful) anti-mask laws the government might have in place. A hood doesn’t cover a face and a person can still be identified (especially by government employees) by demanding they lower their hoods.
But underneath this rhetorical hood is a straw man. People are still anonymous when out in public. Even if they interact poorly with others while in public, they remain anonymous. Maybe those they’ve insulted will be able to identify them at a later date, but lowering a hood does not immediately provide others (much less the government) with a wealth of identifiable information about that person.
If this is the analogy Macron wants to use, it suggests he’d prefer people out on public streets were immediately identifiable, at least to the government. This would mean a vast network of cameras tied to multiple databases, facial recognition software, and other tech goodies that would subject all French residents to continuous, pervasive surveillance should they decide to leave their houses.
Is that what Macron really wants? Because that’s what ending online anonymity does. And it is something a government can carry out without signalling its intent by erecting a network of visible cameras in any place accessible by the public.
Then there are the side effects, some of which may be intentional. Just as surely as a massive physical surveillance network would result in fewer displays of civil disobedience and encourage people to censor their outside conversations, the stripping anonymity online would curtail criticism of the government and opinions on heated topics of public interest. While it may force some people to be a little more courteous in their online interactions, it will do more to prevent the government from being the subject of internet invective.
Also ignored by this clumsy attack on anonymous speech is the fact that stripping anonymity doesn’t automatically result in more online civility. This assumption has been proven false again and again by websites who’ve allowed Facebook (and its “real name” program) to handle online comments. This hasn’t made comment sections any more tolerant or hate-free than more anonymous options.
Finally, there’s the undeniable fact that stripping online anonymity will result in more harm to marginalized groups, rather than less. Without even digging into the collateral damage to speech in general (which includes reporting using anonymous sources and anonymous reporters), the removal on anonymity will make it more difficult for those who fear reprisal for their very existence (much less their online posts) to engage in online discourse, knowing that their names or skin color will be all that’s needed to draw the unwanted attention of people who don’t care who knows how bigoted they are.
Macron’s an addict that just can’t seem to stop going back for one more “no anonymity” hit. He needs an intervention. Unfortunately, years of being wrong haven’t brought him any closer to being right.