Anonymity on the net

I don’t often find myself disagreeing with Mark Steyn about things, but on this one I am completely on the other side. I will let Mark present his case:

Kathy Shaidle and Gavin McInnes have been discussing online anonymity. I agree with them. You’re not in the battle unless you put your name to it – and don’t give me that Scarlet Pimpernel stuff: you’re not riding out after dark on daring missions, you’re just reTweeting some bloke’s hashtag.

Mr McInnes is withering about the cyber-warrior ethos – the butch pseudonym, the graphic-novel avatar. But, cumulatively, it’s making the Internet boring and ineffectual for everyone other than Isis. Speaking of which, notice how few of their followers have reservations about enthusiastically liking and favoriting and reTweeting their Islamic snuff videos, apparently indifferent as to whether Twitter, Facebook or the NSA know their IP numbers.

Let me say that I am sensationally grateful when people take on serious anti-PC issues and use their own names. It is crucial that someone like Andrew Bolt is identifiable and that their blogs, columns and media presentations allow those of us in more vulnerable positions to see these views presented in public. It is important for each of us to understand that we are not alone. We are not at the samizdat stage of our cultural development but we’re not that far away either. The police will not come for you in the middle of the night, and you are very unlikely to be shot down in the street by those who disagree with your views. But for all that, there are large risks for which there is no compensation to any of us in being identified as holding unpopular opinions. With the left, they will come after you to deprive you of your job and your income, and for them, there will be no holds barred. They are not debaters, they are haters. They want to shut you up and they have no qualms about it. There is no value to them in free speech and open debate. They are totalitarians who value nothing but their collective power which they ruthlessly use to do harm to others who step outside their predetermined bounds of acceptable opinion. No one on the left is permitted to be heretical on so much as even a single oissue. You are either all in or you are out.

Think about the testimony offered by Laura Rosen Cohen, who runs a blog I admire, in which she describes the kind of reality most of us are not prepared for. First she writes this:

Having written professionally for a number of years, I also blogged anonymously.

I was scared that I would be harassed at work (or worse) for having “controversial” opinions. So, I published a lot of articles in “mainstream” publications under my own name, and saved my more raucous, obnoxious, super-Jewy stuff for my anonymous blog.

Then, some evil, anonymous and cowardly twerp, sitting at a computer somewhere in the world made a comment on my blog that was mildly threatening. An ‘I know who you are’ kind of thing, kind of threatening to ‘expose’ me. It freaked me out, despite the fact that I was becoming less and less comfortable with anonymity.

Shortly after that, Andrew Breitbart died suddenly of a heart attack. I remember the exact moment when I read about his death and decided right then and there that I was not going to be scared anymore of putting my own name to everything I write. Within a week or so, I had closed the anonymous blog, and started a brand new one with my own name on the masthead, front and centre.

That was also my way of telling that anonymous troll to shove it up his (or her-who knows) ass.

As Gavin, Kathy and Mark say-if you don’t put your name on it, you have no skin in the game.

Excellent. Brave. Forthright. But after all that comes this immediately after:

I have been passed over for many opportunities because my views are not mainstream. I’ve been eased out of jobs, rejected for others, and even asked off-record questions at interviews about my ability to “get along” with ‘people of diverse backgrounds’.

So you see, free speech of unpopular opinions – meaning opinions that are unpopular on the left – is not so free after all, but comes with a huge potential cost. The anonymity of the net allows many of us to say things in public that we are very aware may have us receiving modern versions of being burned at the stake or sent to the gulag. The same people who will sniff at the Catholic Church for arresting Galileo and preventing him from repeating that the sun was at the centre of the solar system are now prepared to jail people who are sceptical about global warming. There are some people who have made a career out of expressing unpopular opinions (of which there are literally none on the left), and I say again how grateful to them I am. But the dangers remain to us folk in the trenches who do not have fame and position to protect us. Anonymity is crucial for many of us and should be protected at all costs by everyone on the net.