Should individuals be allowed to use "false names" (or pseudonyms) on the internet?
This story on NPR begs the question. Big sites like Google + and Facebook say no.
From the piece:
"Part of the L.A. Times site still operates under what Orr calls the old
Wild West system, where all you need to comment on a story is an email
address. He says those sections have more trolls, commenters who bait
each other with racism or personal attacks. The sections with Facebook
logins, on the other hand, are pretty civil."
I have no love of trolls--the internet kind. (I like them in fantasy stories.) While I understand why some have the need to use false names online (just like I understand why Peter Parker wears a mask as Spider-man), in many cases the right to be anonymous is abused--e.g., trolls. Being anonymous allows individuals to be as mean and nasty as they can, which, in turn, can have a chilling effect on others who don't want to be mean and nasty. The term "chilling effect" usually refers to laws which infringe on the freedom of speech.
I think anonymous internet trolls infringe on the freedom of speech. They are bullies and cowards.
Once upon a time, newspapers required a phone number with a letter to the editor. I've had a few published in the past, and every time the paper called me to verify I was who I said I was in the letter.
Anonymous has spun out of control. I respectfully disagree with the argument that internet pseudonyms are the same as literary pseudonyms as "Gardin Winslow" suggests (in the NPR piece). (Did you find this blog via Google, Gardin? I hope you're well.) I do understand your need for anonymity and I respect your perspective. But the same?
Internet anonymity has become a way for people to be as awful as they want, to play with their demons in public without any sense of how those demons might stomp all over others. In the worst cases, some folks loose their demons on purpose because they like to hurt others.
Of all amendments in the United States Bill of Rights, I hold the first most dear:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Language is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Excercise it.
But do so with care.
A student once wore a t-shirt with the phrase "Freedom of Fucking Speech" emblazoned across the chest.
Oh... Really? I'm glad men and women have died over the centuries for this freedom--all so you can don the F-bomb and stride into the school. Well played.
Freedom of speech is a powerful thing--and power must be used carefully. I rewired part of the basement this summer, but I didn't let the kids play with the bare wires. And you can be damn sure I flipped the breakers before I touched anything. I only needed to watch one light switch spark and melt to know the power humming through those thin copper lines. Speech carries more weight. Speech has started and ended wars, caused religions to be born and crumble...
And now, mean people abuse it so they can be royal assholes online with impunity.
Am I worried about the chilling effect of "real" names being required online?
I'm more concerned with the audacity of mean people to abuse their fellows and then cry foul when someone wants to take their weapons away.