Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.net.
I read this morning of a Kentucky congressman who wants to make the ability to make anonymous online comments illegal.
My first reaction, of course is: well fat chance. And apparently even the lawmaker himself realizes the difficulty, quoting, "... enforcing this bill if it became law would be a challenge."
The bill would fine the site owners - people like me, for example - if anonymous posts were allowed to go through. And we'd be fined per anonymous post.
If this became law, I can see only one course of action ... no more comments at all. Since site owners have no way to actually verify any of the identification information that a commentor might supply, there's just no reasonable way to enact this boneheaded idea.
Fortunately I don't think this bill will get very far.
That's not to say that I don't feel the pain of the problem that the law is intended to "fix".
People can be idiots. Otherwise rational and polite people can turn into raving lunatics and act like spoiled brats when they can do so behind the safety of anonymity. And children, who haven't learned the importance of social norms can be even worse. We've all seen and heard of scenarios where on-line comments, posting and anonymous email and instant messaging can be used to harass and bully not just children but adults as well.
Does this mean that anonymity is bad? No. Anonymity is an important tool in a free and open society. Yes, it can be abused by cowards. But it's also an important tool that allows greater freedom of expression without fear of retribution. For example in the obvious case of wistleblowers, it can result in important information coming to light that might otherwise remain hidden, out of fear.
So what do we do about the underlying problem of on-line abuse?
Well, first recognize that making anonymity illegal won't fix it. Abusers will always find a way. (For example the representative might want to realize that this internet thing is a global phenomenon, and that his proposed law will have little effect outside of the United States. And those overseas services? They're just as easy to use as the domestic ones.)
Restricting the abilities and rights of law abiding citizens in ways that the abusers will simply sidestep gets us nowhere.
Online bullying and abuse is a serious issue - I get questions related to it almost every day. In my opinion enough laws are already in place to deal with it; what's missing are the resources to enforce and use the tools already at our disposal.
Let's start there.
I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.net and enter 12268 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse the hundreds of technical questions and answers on the site.
Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.net.
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