Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Dialog on Anonymity and Incivility

The Times chose Anonymity and Incivility as the topic for one of its Sunday Dialog pieces, and included a letter from me as one of the responses.  

If I'd had more space, I would also have pointed out that unless you are a computer whiz, there is no such thing as anonymous speech on the Internet.  While you may choose to adopt the screen name Mark Twain, anyone with a court order can force the company that provides you with internet access to reveal that your real name is Samuel Gompers—and thereby hold you accountable for any libelous speech you may have uttered.

Moreover, the Internet is the greatest and most democratic medium for free expression available to us.  The ability to use a pseudonym has been an American value since the Federalist Papers were penned under the name Publius.  Much will be lost if the powerful companies that moderate most online discourse eradicate the ability to engage in anonymous speech.

Of the letters that were published, I found myself particularly moved by those from people who comment frequently online, and yet say they would not feel comfortable doing so if  they were required to use their real names in all cases.

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