The right freedom to protect

Delaware Supreme Court didn’t actually give a blanket protection for the anonymity of abusive speech, though that’s how the decision has been portrayed on NPR. Biz Report says it found that Smyrna town councilman Patrick Cahill needed to make a stronger case that he and his wife, Julia, had been defamed before forcing Comcast Cable to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger.

A blanket protection for anonymous abusive speech is not what we want. We all have to accept harms to our own interests to protect the good of our common interest, and the harm of personally admitting to abusive speech is a small price to pay for protection from abusive incitement from secret sources.

The right to be vicious in your speech, just so long as it isn’t really true, as argued on “On the Media” today, is stretching the purpose of freedom of speech the wrong way. What we need to protect is a freedom of truthful speech, with a generous tolerance for misunderstanding, misstatement, colorful expression and the pain of exposure.

Protecting internet anonymity for the purpose of encouraging incendiary misstatement is wrong. Just because some harm to an author might be prevented by hiding their identity in some cases, there’s a greater harm in allowing an open season on the truth with a blanket protection of anonymous sources.

Among other things it would imply that abuses of free speech like the “Swift Boat Vets for Truth” could be done anonymously. Wild speech does come up occasionally, and should be protected and seen for what it is, including who says it. Guaranteeing anonymity opens the door to abusive, deceitful and criminal incitement, the opposite of what free speech is intended to guarantee.

I personally think that public interests should be capable of identifying any source on the web, and that free thinking people should do the work of holding them accountable for using it responsibly.

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