Victory For Privacy and Free Speech

Published by • February 8th, 2008 RSS News Feed

People surfing on the internet often feel more comfortable doing so because they are

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able to do it within the confines of their own home. At some point, you may have created a user account with false or non-existent information so you could escape the monotony of everyday life and participate in conversations or interactive websites in ways you wouldn’t normally. Everyone has done it, especially political activists or others who might be retaliated against in the “real world.”

One problem that is starting to surface is that corporations and some individuals would like to see the internet lose that anonymity. For the purposes of data mining (a lucrative business practice) and to keep online discourse regulated, some would stop at nothing to see online free speech stifled or diminished.

From ArsTechnica: “Appeals Court: First Amendment protects forum trolls

Anonymous trolls on the Internet are allowed to remain anonymous, a judge in a California appeals court ruled yesterday. Not only that, but they’re allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak their minds, no matter how scathing their comments may be. The court opinion reversed a previous decision that would have allowed Lisa Krinsky, COO of a Florida-based drug service company, to subpoena 10 anonymous Yahoo message board posters’ real names.

Why is this important to you and me? Why should we care if trolls are “outed” or tar-and-feathered for being jerks? Well, for one, part of the value that the Internet brings to the world is not only freedom of speech and an expectation of privacy, but it also levels the playing field and allows people a forum to express themselves with the world. Where else could you find a place for some random person to speak loudly and receive publicity for otherwise unpopular speech? Where else can you speak the truth without feeling the pressure that comes from your boss or colleagues, friends or family?

The problem with trying to regulate speech online or allowing for the destruction of internet trolls is you essentially move in the direction of threatening individual privacy rights and pulling the plug on internet fantasies. Whether you love trolls or hate them, there’s something to be said for policing the words of the masses and seeking to ruin people who push unpopular opinions. In the grand scheme of things, the trolls may get their 15 seconds of fame… before being banned or ignored, or rebutted by an equally passionate person on the other side of the argument.

We should strive to push for a highly diverse Internet with myriad ideas that as a collective work to find problems to difficult solutions. Additionally, we should also work to protect the ‘fantasy’ aspect of online interaction. If people want to remain anonymous, why deny them that right? If they are not breaking the law or committing acts of terrorism, why should the courts step in to help out corporations only intent on retaliating against individuals or stifling speech? Let’s hope we never end up on the slippery slope of Internet censorship, because once that happens, the value of the online experience is lost. If we succumb to regulation of speech or relent on privacy rights online, the Internet will be no different a forum than the “real world” that is dominated by corporations and special interest groups with lots of money.

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is an Attorney, Entrepreneur, and Blogger from the Silicon Valley.
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