February 22, 2004
Anonymous Speech and the Internet

Dan Gillmor in today's column talks about issues of credibility with this kind of speech and the effects it has on our discourse in blogs and more generally on the web, as we evaluate what people say for trust and authenticity (and bIPlog is mentioned). Anonymous speech is very important, because people who would otherwise not comment out of fear of job or other repercussions, can because they are able to do so anonymously.

But there have been instances here and elsewhere, where people have intentionally hidden their identities, commenting on things across this blog and others, as they pretend to be people different than who they are, to gain credibility with other readers and commenters. That kind of speech is problematic, because it is intentionally dishonest. On the back end of the blogs, the owner can see that it's probably the same person, but on the front end, readers are fooled into thinking that, for example, there are several different commenters when there is actually one.

It's a difficult issue, because we want to leave open the possibility that people who are legitimately fearful can speak, but we also want to be clear with those we converse with on this blog that anonymous comments are actually anonymous and therefore must be scrutinized differently than those from people who post their real names. Being willing to stand up and state who you are, let others scrutinize your biases and background, and say what you think should be encouraged because it makes our discourse stronger, better, and more reliable and useful, while at the same time allowing anonymous speech. Telling the difference is key, and we have to work on better tools and communication to do this on the web.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 22, 2004 10:36 AM
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