Opinion

Complainers want to unmask Internet’s anonymous commenters, courts undecided

How anonymous is anonymity on the Internet?

In the second decade of the 21st century, nobody knows for sure.


The question is at the heart of a Change.org petition signed by best-selling author Anne Rice, demanding that Amazon.com require identity verification before posting material on its website, particularly book reviews that can attack an author personally on one hand, or help push a work up the best-seller lists on the other.

(For a woman who used a pseudonym to publish “The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy,” probably the most famous work of erotic fiction in the world before “Fifty Shades of Gray” came along, Rice has a lot of nerve.)

And in Pennsylvania last month, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge ordered the owners of  Philly.com, the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, to turn over the identification of an anonymous commenter who attacked a powerful union leader.

The union leader’s lawyer convinced the judge the commenter could be sued for defamation but was hiding behind the screen name “fbpdplt,” according to CBS News.

Even though the Internet is has been in widespread use for almost 20 years, the body of law covering anonymity online is still being developed in state appeals courts, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Philly.com.

It’s not a question that breaks down easily along party lines, though liberals tend to come down on the side of squelching free speech more easily than conservatives do because they’re basically fascists at heart who think they mean well (the way Nurse Ratched thought she meant well).

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Photo: Huffington Post

Conservatives have the advantage of believing in liberty – it’s no accident that Democrats, their union buddies and the same-sex marriage militants are the loudest when it comes to screaming for “disclosure” about support for groups they disagree with. Conservatives also have the advantage of the United States Constitution on their side – something that doesn’t trouble the libs nearly as much – in the form of those hallowed words in the very first amendment the Founders made sure was in that document. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

It doesn’t say “except for anonymous speech,” and it doesn’t say “except for speech on laptops, or iPhones,” or even “except for speech in smoke signals.”

Just like with the Second Amendment, libs like to see a lot of “except fors” that aren’t there.

That doesn’t mean individual responsibility takes a holiday when users log on to comments sections. It just seems like it. Unfortunately, there are plenty of juvenile cowards who take advantage of Internet anonymity to post vile, ugly, racist remarks.

Websites everywhere – including this one – are trying to keep the conversation to a certain level of maturity and usefulness; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

But as the saying goes, that’s the price we pay to live in a free society. And as much as the libs would love to shut everyone up by using the courts to identify, demonize and eventually silence anyone who disagrees with them, they’re never going to.

 

Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders, a 25-year newspaper veteran, is a staff writer and editor for BizPac Review who lives in Tallahassee and covers capital and Florida politics. Email Joe at [email protected].

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