Sunday, 26 October 2014

In defence of anonymity...


Writing at Conservative Home, Charlie Elphicke the MP for Dover and Deal has called for the banning of anonymity on social media:

We should target the anonymity hate-tweeters use to harass people online. At the moment it’s just too easy to set up a bogus account and viciously stab at people from behind the curtain. Ensuring people can’t set up anonymous accounts would mean hate-tweeters would be forced to be responsible for the hate they spew.

Elphicke goes on somewhat egregiously to suggest that wanting to ban anonymity isn't a free speech issue arguing this point by creating a new definition of free speech that no-one had used until he dreamt it up:

There are some who will claim this undermines the principle of free speech. They are wrong. It’s an insult to all those who fought for our right to speak out. Free speech is not there to protect people who spread hate while hiding their identity.  The whole point of free speech is the right to speak freely in your own name.  There is also a big difference between the privacy of surfing the internet and claiming “privacy” in aid of anonymity to launch attacks on people. There should be no hiding place for the trolls.

Unlike Mr Elphicke I think this is absolutely a free speech issue and the right to speak anonymously - whether offline or online - is an essential element of that liberty that, in the MP's words people "fought for". And there are very good reasons why we should allow anonymity. Here's one:

A blogger who used the user name, "Miut3" was kidnapped and killed in Reynosa Tamaulipas. She was a "Tuitera" with the over 41k followers on her popular twitter page, that sent out situations of risk, and narco news tweets.

This women - a 'citizen journalist' in a place where the mainstream media and government is coerced by violent criminals - used anonymity to protect herself and to allow the brave resistance to the Mexican borderland's dysfunctional society. If the price of allowing this woman and others like her to challenge and question criminal conspiracy, corruption and murder is that some people use anonymity to post abuse then it's a price I'll take.

Now I can hear Mr Elphicke saying that the UK isn't Mexico and that things are different here. But imagine some other situations - perhaps someone wants to expose wrongdoing within their industry. Do you think that posting under their own name would enhance their career prospects? People simply won't take the risk.

Look at the great blogs exposing some of the management problems in the police - closed down because the blogger got identified. We'd be worse as a society without blogs like Night Jack. And there are tweeters and bloggers who use anonymity to catalogue their struggles with drug addiction or alcoholism safe knowing that anonymity protects their life from intrusion and attack.

Look also at the lengths to which public authorities will pursue bloggers who challenge and criticise them - local councils such as Bexley, South Tyneside, Carmathen and Barnet have all expended council taxpayers money pursuing bloggers (with differing degrees of success). Anonymity facilitates challenge and criticism and this is one of the reasons why public authorities are so keen to see it stopped.

It isn't pleasant to be abused online anymore than it's pleasant to be abused in the street, the pub or at work. But most of the time we walk away, a little upset maybe but not otherwise harmed. The same applies online - switch off the computer, go and make yourself a cup of tea and read a book or watch the telly. The abusers will soon go away if they don't get a response. And don't - unless you're a troll yourself - play the silly game of broadcasting on Twitter, Facebook or your blog that you're being 'trolled'. All that does is make you even more of a target - you've responded so the trolls know they'll get a rise from you.

So I say to Charlie Elphicke, get a thicker skin, stop claiming it's all "for the children" when it's not and read and remember the final tweet from Miut3 - posted by her murderers:

Friends and Family, my real name is Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, I am a doctor, now my life has met it's end.



Trofim said...

If anonymity were not available, the range of views expressed on the internet would be vastly diminished. In the USSR, as in any totalitarian state, politicians only really found out the real state of affairs via anonymous letters. Any feedback from real people by necessity had to be fawning and complimentary.
But there are other closer to home reasons. I have been close to my favourite niece all my life. Unfortunately, she has over the years become thoroughly well-inculcated with the standard left-wing views freely handed out as facts in schools and universities. Given the current
destructive polarization of political views, to hold views contrary to those of her friends would carry a heavy social price. She understands that I am of a rather more conservative disposition and we get by by not discussing political issues in depth, which is a great pity. But if she were to hear my real unsavoury views on certain topics, she would probably distance herself from me and I have this fantasy whereby she might even in a worse case scenario prevent my beloved great-nephews and nieces from seeing me, in case of
contamination. I'm afraid anonymity is necessary evil if you wish to encourage the expression of as wide a gamut of opinions as possible. To remove anonymity is to censor.
When people condemn anonymity, I'm always astonished that they do not see the parallel.

asquith said...

There will be no consequences from Charlie Elphicke broadcasting his views under his own name, in fact he'll gain the support of many a halfwit by doing so.

It is always the wealthy and powerful who "argue" thus. They can't imagine what it's like to be, for instance, an atheist in a Muslim country with full-on "blaspehmy" laws, gay in swathes of the world (including for many people in this country). They imagine it's their personal strength of charachter that anons lack. In fact it's entirely their position in society.

Allergic as I am to the phrase in most of its usages, Charlie Elphicke really needs to check his privilige. And I am saying that.

I wish I wasn't ill, because I would properly and seriously go to town on this. It angers me as much as Russell Brand and his mates. I can't get a proper head of rage right now but he and like-minded people need to have their ignorance and self-regard punctured before the internet is made a worse place for us all.