Anonymous Speech on the Internet

This is important. Thanks for blogging it. In December, the ACLU filed an amici brief in support that Twitter not release account information for people who commented about the death of Kendrick Johnson.


Google and Twitter Speak Up in Support of the First Amendment Rights of Their Users

Beaker with empty quote coming out of it

Yesterday was a good day for Google and Twitter users. It was a good day for science. And it was a good day for the Internet. Why? Because these two technology companies, along with prominent scientists and a public advocacy group, added their voices to the growing consensus that the constitutional right to speak anonymously on the Internet requires special protection in defamation lawsuits brought against anonymous Internet users.

Here’s the background: PubPeer, LLC operates a website devoted to anonymous post-publication review of scientific research (its founders have explained its mission here). This website is an important forum for scientists to debate the merits of their peers’ work without worrying about retaliation or adverse professional consequences. But its…

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6 Responses to Anonymous Speech on the Internet

  1. Very interesting. Its a FINE BALANCE. One reason that if Twitter is really concerned about this – they MUST be more CONSISTENT and TRANSPARENT in enforcement of their rules. When an (ab)user crosses the line – and they spell out that line already in their TOS – they MUST take the APPROPRIATE action.

    Otherwise THEY become potentially liable – even if its a very hard case to prove. But hard cases ARE winnable. They just require a principled plaintiff with a principled and talented attorney. Most hard cases are not won – because they are never brought – because few attorneys want to do the hard work. But when one does … then the “norm” no longer applies.

    But its even more important – since one element in the background of the systematic/organized abuses/abusers – is that a faction within them WANTS to DESTROY Twitter – just BECAUSE it has such a potentially powerful democratic potential. As was learned – without advance warning – in the years since the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman case. And thus certain “interests” have sought to undermine Twitter by CAPTURING it – controlling it by targeting particular voices for “silencing” by piling on the attack until the submit to the self-imposed asylum of silence (as I have phrased it). Meanwhile sending out the MESSAGE to any others who may think of daring to speak up – do so at your own risk.

    Democracy requires Discourse – a reasoned and critical engagement of citizens in a public discussion about the world and issues around them (and thus from ALL perspectives and viewpoints) – and that discourse requires a PUBLIC SPHERE.

    Contemporary America has all but “designed” the public sphere out of physical existence in the “un-design” of “un-communities” with “non-neighborhoods” – just sprawl to maximize the profit of the original landowner and the out-of-town developer – and then leaving that parcel to decline and decay for the next few generations on the “disposable community” model – which only means more profits as they then pour concrete over the next patch of “unused” land (nature, greenspace, etc.) and do it all again.

    And the misuse of law – particularly by local governments both trying to “eliminate” homelessness by eliminating the “homeless” (not by rendering them “homed”) or at least making them seem to disappear (from their view) and to (as we saw in Occupy) silence the organization and expression of citizen dissent – by using trespass laws to limit access to PUBLIC space and the distortion of the “time, place & manner” concept such that there are now “declared” “free-speech zones” – small parts of the “community” in which free speech is allegedly allowed (usually placed well out of sight and sound of the general public).

    Thus the internet and new social media emerged to fill a needed vacuum – yet who would have ever guessed the 140 character limitation of Twitter would have been able to be turned into a part of an emergent virtual political public sphere! And this SCARES THE HELL out of those with an INTEREST in controlling speach and thereby controlling the power of CITIZENS (who don’t realize they are meant to only BELIEVE they are such – not to actually try to REALIZE that role. They are supposed to be mere SUBJECTS – knowing their place and deferring to their “betters” in authority (formal and informal)).

    • Xena says:

      Thanks for your comment. If you haven’t already, and wish to do so, the ACLU’s brief that was filed in the case in Georgia, (Johnson v. Bell) can be accessed on the right border here under “Documents.” The ACLU does distinguish between cases where the allegations against the alleged defamer are more provable than not, and non-fact pleadings, where a general allegation is made without support. Additionally, they distinguish between parties and non-parties, which is the case in Johnson v. Bell.

      You are totally correct about the hard cases not being filed in court. Offhand, I can count at least 20 people who would file cases, but they don’t have the retainers to do so, and explaining the case to attorneys unfamiliar with how social media operates can be difficult. Well — it’s difficult for some in law enforcement to understand. Some do not know the difference between public forums, chat rooms, pubic comment boards and blogs. Their immediate solution is to tell people to stay off the internet, thereby encouraging them to effect the very goal of harassers and defamers.

      Regarding terms of service, I think that hosts of social media must take more active roles in identifying motives and doing so as quickly as possible. Someone recently suggested that companies such as Twitter replace advertisement for income with membership fees. If people are charged membership fees, they will not be quick to open multiple accounts, or new accounts after being suspended. For example, since late October 2015, David Piercy has been suspended from Twitter about least 15 times. If he had to pay $10.00 each time he opened a new account, his return under a new handle might have been preventable.

  2. Agree with Xena. When there is no financial award probability, attorneys can only be obtained by high dollar per hour rates, not affordable for most individuals. Victims are left with reputations destroyed, severe post traumatic stress due to the targeting and attacks and exposure of victims families, the routing of family members social media accounts, posting of personal pictures, however public the social media accounts, they are not meant to be exploited by individuals with social media vendetta. The difficulty in obtaining the identity of the cultprits reaping this terror upon individuals can only be tempered by allowing the choice for all social media users to have the choice to remain anonymous publicly, but perhaps have a verifiable identifier in the sign up process in the event of extreme criminal behaviors (paedos, animal cruelties, radical/extremist propagation, threats to human life AND the potential threats to social media users and their families or possible suicide/overdose type risks).

    • Xena says:

      Hey Katrina. The freedom of speech argument and internet harassment court decisions might sound like a double-edged sword. An important part of the post says;

      “Finally, the brief from Public Citizen documents the nearly unanimous consensus in courts around the country that defamation plaintiffs must substantiate their claims with evidence before being permitted to unmask anonymous speakers on the Internet.”

      In my opinion, this is the key. Like we see in the Bell’s counter-claims, the allegations are spurious. They provide no statements of alleged defamation made by each of the 23 handles. Additionally, like in the subject case of the article, these are not named parties to the case. They are third-parties.

      On the other hand, directed defamation like what Charlie is currently enduring, leaves no question that it is willful. Although others have joined in, there is no question as to who initiated it. The person uses a cell phone and proxy IP addresses, There are records for that.

  3. What I have encountered, in this year’s past experience, is the grueling process of obtaining the records from providers and as these very practiced and accomplished repeat offenders have learned from their sociopathy, the more confusion they create via spoofs, vpns, etc. the more provider supoenae are needed and as in the case of my provider, they require a request from a law enforcement body. Most law enforcement bodies are dealing with shootings, robberies, etc. and this tedious process of tracking and supoena, however worth it to victims, takes valuable resources from already stretched law enforcement budgets. I think that is an issue to be lobbied for, more ease of access of ip records from providers or a central IP bank where providers can dump the torrents.

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