Anonymous Internet and The Rule of The Minority
I often read the site Techdirt, in part because I find it endlessly fascinating how a small group of people can twist and convoluted everything in the universe to fit their small, limited agenda. I read the site in the same manner that you might read The Onion or TMZ, it’s entertainment with lots of laughs, and is often a little light on balance and truth. It’s perhaps best described by the term Truthiness.
So when I ran across a piece called “I’ll Put My Name On This Piece Declaring It Idiotic To Argue Against Anonymity Online”, I couldn’t resist reading and finding out what twisted logic would be used to justify the totally anonymous internet. His strongest argument is made by selectively quoting the Supreme Court: “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.”. Quoting the Supreme Court seems like a bulletproof argument, until you realize that the ruling was made PRE-INTERNET, in 1995. It also should be noted that the ruling was in relation to political speech (McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n (93-986)) and had nothing to do with the staggering changes that the internet has brought. I would say that, all considered, the court’s ruling may have been different if it was made today.
I have been around the internet and network computer communication since, well, long before most people would care to remember. I understand the power of online speech, and I understand that there are many implications that come with the medium. One cartoon I really love is that of the two dogs sitting in front of a computer, and one says to the other “online, nobody knows you are a dog”. Online, nobody knows who anyone is, and that leads to some truly destructive things.
Online, there is a sort of mob mentality at play. The anonymous factors online are perhaps not much different from the mentality during a riot. People will do things during the riot that they otherwise would not do. Online, it means that people will say things that they would never say otherwise, and do things they otherwise would not do. This has played out recently during the Reddit / Ellen Pao situation, where the crowd egged each other on to greater and bigger insults, threats, and much more. I don’t think that at a basic level these people were wrong (Pao seems to have massively mismanaged Reddit), but the mob rules mentality means that normal people like you and me were out there posting threats and doxing her family…
One other thing about the McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n case is that the basis of the judgement made was that the content of the political leaflets that were being distributed without signature were not libelous. “There is no suggestion that the text of her message was false, misleading, or libelous. “. That is a pretty big asterisk that the anonymous speech types hate to address. Online, there is plenty of false and misleading speech – so much so that sites like Snopes prosper, telling people when they have been conned by rumors and outright lies. Much of the posting comes from anonymous sources, or is posted, reposted, and requoted so much as to lose it’s value and to have no real attributable source. Consider this piece of poop from pushed by the famous conspiracy and little green man fan Art Bell:
“Lyn Leahz shares about a phone call with her friend who was given inside information about a comet expected to hit the earth between September 15-28, 2015. Almost a year ago, the foreign minister of France three times publicly announced at a White House press conference a 500-day countdown to “climate chaos”, which will end on September 24, 2015. They know what is coming and have already told you – chaos will erupt on this planet in September 2015. Are you listening? Are you prepared?”
The problem here is that these “facts” are false. NASA denies it, there is nothing out there. “Lyn Leahz” is a just another religious crackpot with a conspiracy theory for everything, it seems. Oddly her site hasn’t updated since July, perhaps we are lucky and this misleading blogger is in hiding, waiting for the world to end. Hint: it’s 2016, the world didn’t end in 2015, sorry Lyn!
At least Lyn Leahz (bet that’s her real name, right?) signs her work. So many people run anonymous blogs, blogger sites, and post under all sorts of fake names, pretending to be what they are not and pushing agendas that are just not real. There the minority can tell the majority how to live, yelling the loudest to try to shout down reason. Thankfully, the people like Leahz are a little too obvious, and most of us don’t fall for it. But there are more than enough nut jobs out there to make things confusing.