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Pros and cons of anonymity
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Mon, 1 Sep 2008 07:56:19 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Paul Levy" <plevy () citizen org>
Date: August 31, 2008 8:34:53 PM EDT
To: <dave () farber net>, <ip () v2 listbox com>
Subject: Pros and cons of anonymity

I have to assume that this post was not cited as "proof" of a general proposition, but rather as a reminder that people who speak out against the rich and/or powerful can face retaliation. Of course, once the dissident is seized by the police and brought into a vehicle to be taken to who know where, anonymity is does not prevent the physical consequences. But had Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of the ingushetiya.ru site discussed in this article, conducted his website anonymously, he would perhaps not have been subject to being seized. Concern about such consequences -- or lesser but still significant economic or political consequences that American critics often face as a result of their speech -- is an important reason why many speak anonymously, and why we need protections or anonymity.

As for Spafford's concern about false rumors posted for purposes of disruption, I think the answer is that most people take anonymous postings (or postings from pseudonymous authors who have not built up credibility based on past posts) with a grain of salt. This does many anonymous or pseudonymous communications from making significant contributions to the marketplace of ideas. Authorship -- or unknown authorship -- is simply one factor that most audiences take into account when deciding what credence to give.

Finally, Spafford goes to his conclusion "Heck, the secret
police might well plant fully-anonymous stories to justify acts
against dissenters! " And what reason does he have to think that secret police feel they need such self-justification?

Paul Alan Levy
Public Citizen Litigation Group
1600 - 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 588-1000

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