Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Internet Anonymity

This letter to the editor of the Deseret News attracted my attention this evening:

Please turn off the ability to "comment" on stories published in the Deseret News. I hate reading articles on immigration, gay marriage, religion or even the recent NCAA conference realignments because of the comments people post on these stories. User names and pseudonyms allow people to hide behind "masks" and post the most insensitive, crass, horrible comments.

If you believe in something or have an opinion, sign your name; sign your real name to your comments and beliefs. Allow your children, your employer, your neighbors and your friends to really know what you believe. If you don't feel as though you can sign your real name to your comments, then I encourage you to keep your opinions and thoughts to yourself.

Jessica Alba
West Jordan

* * *

If I were the Deseret News, I would never consider "turning off" the right to offer your opinion, even if you choose to offer it anonymously.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

"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."

There is a long legal history associated with freedom of speech in this country.  While I have seen a lot of "stuff" that qualifies under some pretty expansive judicial interpretations of freedom of speech in my lifetime (pornography comes instantly to mind), one thing I have strong feelings about is "hiding" behind your speech as though no one knows or is taking note.

When I first contemplated the idea of writing a blog, I was confronted with this question.  Some cautioned that my identity could be compromised, and argued for anonymity as a blogger.  I wondered to myself, "If my identity could be 'compromised' or I could be 'misrepresented' in my anonymous views, or my true identity could potentially be revealed to the world against my will, then why wouldn't I want the world to know my true identity voluntarily right out the gate?"  Isn't the best defense a good offense?

First, I want my children and grandchildren to know what I think.  My only goal here is not to embarrass them too much.  I'm ultimately accountable to God, but also to my family.  It keeps me grounded somewhat, though I've never been too shy about sharing my true beliefs.  I'm doing much of what I do here for that precise reason.  I don't much care if anyone else gets any value from my views, but I'm particularly interested in having my children know where I stand on what I perceive to be the critical issues of our day in two areas always deemed to be "taboo" in polite conversation:  Politics and Religion.  I, for one, am grateful for a cyberspace forum that makes it possible to make one's views known, and let the chips fall where they may. 

I offer no apology for what I think or believe, and I'm leaving my signature affixed.  I don't pretend to represent anyone but myself here, and I welcome the accountability that attaches.  You don't have to agree with me.  I just want to say it as well as I can.

Someone suggested I should do a Google search on myself before I started this blog.  So I did.  There wasn't much there.  I decided I would go "out there" with exactly what I think and feel without the shield of anonymity, and thus The Goates Notes was born with full disclosure about its author. 

I remember Harold B. Lee offering some sound advice about anonymous letters.  He received perhaps thousands of them during his lifetime as a General Authority.  He would always say, even when they were hurtful personally, "I just consider the source (Anonymous), then conclude they must not really have the power of their convictions if they don't sign their name."

I know many find "comfort" in hiding behind their true identity on the Internet.  These folks must still be delusional, thinking perhaps no one really knows who they are.  However, that is completely simplistic.  When you comment on the Deseret News forums, for example, your true identity may hide behind a public pseudonym for a username, but the forum monitors at the website have your real e-mail address, and it's easily traced.  Further, every computer has a distinct IP address easily traced to its true owner.  How many times have we been told from how many knowledgeable sources that we must never assume we are completely "safe" or "protected" on the Internet? 

Anonymity on the Internet is like being a "little bit pregnant," it seems to me.

Many are fearful what they might say as an anonymous source might come back later to haunt them.  My thought is that if you are hiding behind an anonymous comment for fear of retribution, then why put those potentially harmful thoughts in writing in the first place?  If you feel it, if you believe it, if you want to persuade others to your point of view, if you want to promote your ideas in marketing or sales, then what's the point in hiding behind your shrouded identity?

I used to comment about one particularly opinionated person I know.  I would say, "He may not always be right, but he's never unsure."  And I always knew where he stood on an issue.

I believe in the protected individual right to free speech, and I encourage its free expression, even if that right is exercised by idiots like the guy who wants to burn the Quran on Saturday.  Despite almost universal condemnation of his stated plans, he has the right under the Constitution to be stupid.  And he's not doing it anonymously. 

He may be wrong, but at this writing, he is showing no signs of being unsure. 

In a strange sort of way, the fact that he is who he says he is -- a bigoted idiot posing as a Christian minister -- that's better in my mind than someone who hides in the bushes and throws stink bombs at glass houses, thinking he can remain undetected.

If you believe it, then say it, write it, sing it, publish it or burn it -- but attach your name to it. 

Just remember, hiding from an omnipotent, omniscent, omnipresent God of heaven and earth is as futile as putting on some fig leaves supposing to cover your nakedness.

No comments:

Post a Comment