Key First World Problem: the banning of anonymous Trolls

All hail Gayle Flakenthal, who has put a voice to what we have all been thinking: something has to be done about those damned trolls. Especially the nerds.

In a Washington Times, “Internet trolls, Anonymity and the First Amendment,” she says that “the time has come to limit the ability of people to remain anonymous” online. The reason: anonymous identities allow trolls to act with impunity, and clog up comments with annoying comments. Commenters have polluted the Internet “with false accusations and name-calling attacks.” For that reason, newspapers should ban anonymous comments.

I say, bravo. It's about time someone said that name calling is a terrible perversion of the first amendment.

I know what the bleeding hearts may say[1]:”This argument is not only inaccurate, it's also dangerous: online anonymity, while allowing trolls to act with impunity, also protects a range of people, from Syrian dissidents to small-town LGBT activists and plenty of others in between.”

What a load of tripe. Did Gandhi make his protests under the user name britishOutOfIndia? Of course not[2]. Did Socrates pose his questions as an anonymous user of a public forum? I think not[3]. They faced down their critics with a steely glare.

This is the first world. We don’t need the protection of anonymity any more. We have lawyers. And we know they work because they sure charge a lot for their services. Why should the civility of online comments be corrupted all for the sake of cowtowing to the odd third-world citizen in a basement, calling his government silly names? And how do we even know he isn’t just trolling himself? It’s just too risky.

Luckily, many newspapers have already banned anonymous comments, and "civility" is often cited as  the justification in discussions. So there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I agree that there may be a small-town schoolteacher who fears persecution for her political views to her local community but wants to give a voice online. But freedom of speech means that you have an obligation to stand up and state your name. The same goes for the the gay teenager who wants to talk about it online but isn’t quite ready to come out. Too bad: the first amendment wasn’t put there to help you stay in the closet. It was there to allow us to have civil comments at the end of articles.

Some may argue[4], “The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and anonymity, and the Supreme Court has made these same arguments about safety and anonymity for decades. In 1960, the Court explicitly upheld a speaker’s right to remain anonymous.”

My response to that is: Really? Would you want a cell  phone that was seven years old? Then why do you want to your opinion on free speech to be based on a court ruling that is fifty years old? Those judges are now dead. They probably weren’t taking into account that they were giving vocal power to nerds.

Of course, there may be other ways to deal with trolls that don’t go as far as banning anonymous users. I have heard that there has been some experimentation with “moderating” comments. This cutting edge technology involves a editor or some appointed person who is responsible for monitoring comments in a forum. That person would then be allowed to “review” comments and then “remove” comments that are inflammatory or libelous.

While that may work for many savvy Internet sites, there are many who are not used to such newfangled technology. Better we should just shut everything down.

[1] And they did, actually. Specifically, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But I think they may be trolls.
[2] There was no Internet
[3] Again, same reason.
[4] And they did. Those Electronic Frontier Foundation just don’t give up, do they?

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