There’s a really interesting discussion happening over at Almost Diamonds about whether or not bloggers have an obligation to protect the identity of abusive or threatening commenters:
While the balance of power may be in our favor in dealing with the pseudonymous/anonymous Hoggle, it isn’t necessarily for anyone who deals with his secret identity. I know something about how he behaves when he thinks he can get away with it that they don’t. I know how obsessive he can be. I know how weirdly he can interpret things to put himself in the right. I know how angry he is about feminism. And I know that he’s capable of combining that anger with sexual release. What I don’t know is how that translates into his real life. I still know more than any woman from whom he’s hiding his blog.
So the challenge is this: Knowing what I know, having the information I do, give me agood reason why I’m not morally obligated to attach his real name to this kind of behavior as publicly as I can.
My initial position is that the blogger who goes by the name “John Hoggle” (which makes him sound like a character from Harry Potter) shouldn’t be ‘outed’, because in general people have a right to anonymity. Many people rely on anonymity online to protect themselves from legitimate threats. The more I thought about it, though, I realized that I don’t believe that for a second:
There absolutely is a line, however. There is a line when it stops being speech, and starts being violence. There is a difference between criticizing ideas and attacking individuals based on group membership. There is a difference between speaking out against the actions of an individual who is harming someone and encouraging people to harm that individual. Once you are using speech to enact punishment on someone who is different from you, you’ve stepped outside the realm of free speech an into the realm of inciting violence.
You don’t get to have it both ways – you can’t hide behind free speech protections and then refuse to answer questions. If you have an opinion and you demand the right to express it, then you ought to express it. Hiding behind the principle of free speech to defend your bigotry – and Mr. Wilders is nothing but a bigot, to be clear – is a perversion of the idea of free speech. The whole point of a free speech law is to defend people’s right to engage in legitimate discussion and criticism, not as a skirt to hide behind like a frightened bully whose victim stands up for itself.
While I certainly do support the principle of anonymity, I do not support using it as a way of shielding hateful, non-constructive abuse. At that point your opinions have stopped being reasonable criticisms of an idea you oppose and have become a weapon to use against people you disagree with. While I don’t think it should be a legal issue, you should absolutely be made to stand by your opinions when they turn into personal attacks. Protecting anonymity in the name of protecting individuals becomes moot when it is used to attack other individuals. You give up your own protection at that point, and if you believe what you’re saying is right, then you should be willing to stand behind it.
I have never found it necessary to spell out a policy for commenting. In general I do not moderate or block comments, but I’ve never really had the need to. I generally agree that online anonymity is important, and I will respect even the wishes of those who I disagree with, no matter how heated the discussion might get. That being said, I will respect that right up until the point where I decide it crosses the line between debate and abuse. Then I will have no compunction about publishing personal details. My threshold is pretty high, and I will most often warn people when they’re about to get spanked, but I will ignore any crying ‘foul’ if I don’t deign to warn you.
I have a year’s worth of comments that you can sort through if you want to get a flavour of how high my tolerance is (Here is an example of what happens when I lose my temper – grassrute is still welcome here and does occasionally comment). More often than not, I am the one in the conversation being abusive, which is a privilege I reserve for myself as the author of this blog. So far nobody has even come close to the kind of persistent abusive behaviour that would trigger me to release personal information. You’ll have lots and lots of warning before it gets there, trust me.
Anyway, go haunt Stephanie’s hallowed halls for a while – join the conversation!
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