From WashingtonPost.com: In a First Amendment case with implications for everything from neighborhood e-mail lists to national newspapers, an Eastern Shore businessman argued to Maryland’s highest court yesterday that the host of an online forum should be forced to reveal the identities of people who posted allegedly defamatory comments.
It is the first time the Maryland Court of Appeals has confronted the question of online anonymity, an issue that has surfaced in state and federal courts over the past few years as blogs and other online forums have increasingly become part of the national discourse.
Leaving the issue of what differentiates libel from opinion, it’s important to remember that in the worst case, the aforementioned forum would be potentially obligated to reveal the poster’s pseudonym. Not their identity. For most of your online posting, a well thought out set of pseudonyms would be a great way of insulating yourself from somebody’s desire to silence you through seemingly legal means.
In other news from Slashdot: Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, describes anonymity on the Internet as similar to abortion: a bad practice that people should still have rights to. Calling anonymity one of the greatest disappointments of the Internet’s evolution, Dyson said: ‘I’m pro choice, but I think abortion is an unfortunate thing. I think the same thing about anonymity: Everybody should have the right to it, but it’s not something one wants to encourage.’
From where I sit, it doesn’t seem auspicious to make a comparison between anonymity and abortion. While the former is a mostly theoretical discussion for most, the later is the kind of thing that gets people killed, or at the very least causes a kind of apoplectic reaction not usually seen in our day to day lives.
So let’s try a madlib experiment instead: I’m pro first amendment, but I think that having everyone freely expressing their opinions is an unfortunate thing. I think the same thing about anonymity: Everybody should have their right to it, but it’s not something that one wants to encourage. Kind of takes the steam out of the argument, doesn’t it?.
Bottom line: Yes, people do tend to be less, em, diplomatic when posting anonymously in online forums. Much as they are at their less-than-best in their cars, staff break rooms, city streets, etc. This is a part of being human that can’t be solved by requiring that people not post as Anonymous Cowards.