Anonymous Comments

I'm puzzled, sometimes troubled, by anonymous comments in online fora.

The following was in the Boston Review this week:

Anonymous comment

There’s an important critique inside that comment, a concern that should be part of the dialogue on net neutrality. (Though, as noted here yesterday, I doubt such a dialogue is possible in Congress right now.)

But how do you have a dialogue with this commentator? Her passion is evident enough, but who is she? How would one follow up with her? How would one relate her perspective to what else you know about her, her arguments, her personality as associated with other comments she makes on the web, articles she writes, people she works for?

Anonymity tends to derail credibility. As well written, passionate and concrete as the above comment is, I find myself concluding that the author doesn’t want so much to debate the issue as she wants to bear witness to her ideology. Ideology is as much a wet blanket to dialogue as religion.

Worse yet, on a third read I wonder if the comment is part of a paid-for campaign to stop meaningful debate on the subject. “Regulation leads to regulatory capture” indeed; as Tim Karr has shown, the Republican Congress attempting to shut down the FCC’s net neutrality order has been captured by the telecommunications industry. Speaker Boehner speaks of a "government takeover of the Internet," taking ideological cover in order to glide right past the legitimate concern many have that it will be private interests that will buy out net freedom.

On many topics in some parts of the world, anonymity is life-saving. If you read Evgeny Morozov’s book, “The Net Delusion,” or follow his tweets, you’re aware that, at this moment on the globe, people are being arrested, tortured, executed for things they say or sometimes even simply for media they access. There are situations where anonymity represents a path to liberty.

But that’s not the case in the United States on the topic of whether the open internet will survive as an open internet, if left to market forces alone. Sharp elbows under the basket - no one likes taking them, but let's try. As Justice Scalia is reported to have said last year, "Running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage."


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