This House would ban all anonymous posting and commenting on the Internet.

With the dawn of the internet, people are able to communicate with unprecedented degrees of anonymity: the ability to send messages, make statements, or take actions with little or no potential to be personally identified in doing so. Many social media sites, forums, and message boards allow users to post using only a username that is virtually impossible to trace back to their real life identity. Some, such as 4chan, even pride themselves on preserving the absolute anonymity of their users. There has only been one large scale attempt to push back against anonymity by banning it, this was in South Korea. South Korea from 2007 had a law that forced internet users to use their real names and government id numbers in order to comment on all websites with more than 100,000 users, but a constitutional court ruled against it in 2012 saying it violated freedom of speech.[1] There are however much more limited attempts in other countries to make sure that anonymity does not lead to an increase in defamation, in the UK for example the 2013 Defamation law forces websites to give up a perpetrators users details in defamation cases.[2]

As with any internet based debates, you should be very careful about specifying the actor if you are opening the debate: remember that the internet is not controlled by any single governing force. That said most prominent websites will comply with the demands of governments, particularly the United States government where the majority of major websites are based, as they are at genuine risk of being shut down due to the fact that, in most cases, the owners are well known. Even in the cases of less prominent or compliant websites, they will at least be under more pressure to prevent anonymous posting as it will be easier for governments to shut them down or prevent access to them in their own country. With most websites not allowing anonymous posting, it will be very difficult for most individuals to engage in anonymous online activity.

A sensible proposition could be the government making it illegal for websites to allow anonymous posting, and threatening those that do not comply with legal action, such as hefty fines, closure, or total national censorship. Also banning individuals from posting anonymously is advisable, though this would be largely symbolic as it would be very difficult to enforce.

[1] ‘Court deals blow to South Korean law outing Internet users’, Los Angeles Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/08/court-deals-blow-to-south-korean-law-outing-internet-users-.html

[2] ‘UK's New Defamation Law May Accelerate The Death Of Anonymous User-Generated Content Internationally’, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2013/05/09/uks-new-defamation-law-may-accelerate-the-death-of-anonymous-user-generated-content-internationally/

 

Title 
Reducing cyberbullying.
Point 

When internet anonymity is used for bullying, it can make the situation much worse. Firstly, perpetrators are much less likely to hold back or be cautious as they are less concerned with the possibility of being caught. This means the bullying is likely to be more intense than when it is done in real life.[1] Additionally, for victims of cyberbullying, being unable to tell who your harasser is, or even how many there are can be particularly distressing.[2]

Anonymous posting being significantly less available takes away the particularly damaging anonymous potential of cyberbullying, and allows cyberbullying to be more effectively dealt with.

[1] ‘Traditional Bullying v. Cyberbullying’. CyberBullying, Google Sites. URL: https://sites.google.com/site/cyberbullyingawareness/traditional-bullying-vs-cyberbullying

‘The Problem of Cyberbullies’ Anonymity’. Leo Burke Academy. URL: http://www.lba.k12.nf.ca/cyberbullying/anonymity.htm

[2] ‘Cyberbullying’. Netsafe. URL: http://www.cyberbullying.org.nz/teachers/

Counterpoint 

Stopping anonymity does not meaningfully prevent bullying. Internet anonymity is not essentially to bullying: it can be done through a nearly infinite number of media. Importantly, it is not even essential to anonymous bullying. For example, it is quite simple to send anonymous text messages: all that is required is access to a phone that the victim does not have the number of. It is similarly easy to simply write notes or letters, and leave them in places where the victim will find them. Anonymous posting on the internet is far from the only place where these kinds of anonymous attacks are possible.

All this policy does is shifts the bullying into areas where they may be more difficult to monitor. Rather than sending messages online that can be, albeit with some difficulty, traced back to the perpetrator, or at least used as some kind of evidence, bullies are likely to return to covert classroom bullying that can be much more difficult to identify.

Title 
Reducing hate speech.
Point 

Openly racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory comments made through public forums are much more likely when made anonymously, as people feel they are unlikely to see any consequences for voicing their hateful opinions.[1] This leads firstly to a propagation of these views in others, and a higher likelihood of attacks based on this hate, as seeing a particular view more often makes people feel it is more legitimate.[2] More importantly, it causes people from the targeted groups to feel alienated or unwelcome in particular places due to facets of their identity that are out of their control, and all people have a right not to be discriminated against for reasons such as these.

The proposed policy would enormously reduce the amount of online hate speech posted as people would be too afraid to do it. Although not exactly the same a study of abusive and slanderous posts on Korean forums in the six months following the introduction of their ban on anonymity found that such abusive postings dropped 20%.[3] Additionally it would allow governments to pursue that which is posted under the same laws that all other speech is subject to in their country.

[1] ‘Starting Points for Combating Hate Speech Online’. British Institute of Human Rights. URL: http://act4hre.coe.int/rus/content/download/28301/215409/file/Starting%20points.pdf

[2] ‘John Gorenfield, Moon the Messiah, and the Media Echo Chamber’. Daily Kos. URL: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/06/24/34812/-John-Gorenfeld-Moon-the-Messiah-and-the-Media-Echo-Chamber

[3] ‘Real Name Verification Law on the Internet: A Poison or Cure for Privacy?’, Carnegie Melon University, http://weis2011.econinfosec.org/papers/Real%20Name%20Verification%20Law%20on%20the%20Internet%20-%20A%20Poison%20or%20Cu.pdf

Counterpoint 

Hate speech will happen regardless. A significant amount of online hate speech is made through accounts under the real life name of the speaker. It is notable that Facebook has required its users to use their real names since 2011,[1] but has still had significant issues with hate speech long after that.[2] The fact is that an enormous amount of hate speakers see what they are saying as entirely legitimate, and are therefore not afraid of having it connected to their real life identities. The fact is that 'hate speech' is localised and culture-dependent. Since the Internet brings many cultures together, hate speech will happen almost inadvertently.

Additionally, online hate speech is very difficult to prosecute even when connected to real life identities,[3] so this policy is unlikely to be effective at making those who now would be identified see any more consequences than before. In the Korean example the law was simply avoided by resorting to foreign sites.[4] The similar lack of consequences is likely to lead to a similar lack of disincentive to posting that kind of material.

[1] ‘Twitter rife with hate speech, terror activity’. Jewish Journal. URL: http://www.jewishjournal.com/lifestyle/article/twitter_rife_with_hate_speech_terror_activity

[2] ‘Facebook Admits It Failed On Hate Speech Following #FBrape Twitter Campaign And Advertiser Boycott’. International Business Times. URL: http://www.ibtimes.com/facebook-admits-it-failed-hate-speech-following-fbrape-twitter-campaign-advertiser-boycott-1282815

[3] ‘Racists, Bigots and the Internet’. Anti-Defamation League. URL: http://archive.adl.org/internet/internet_law3.asp

[4] ‘Law on real name use on Internet ruled illegal’, JoonAng Daily, http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=295...

Title 
Reducing currently illegal activity.
Point 

Internet anonymity is very useful for planning and organising illegal activity, mostly buying and selling illegal goods, such as drugs, firearms, stolen goods, or child pornography, but also, in more extreme cases, for terrorism or assassinations. This is because it can be useful in making plans and advertisements public, thus enabling wider recruitment and assistance, while at the same time preventing these plans from being easily traced back to specific individuals.[1] For example, the website Silk Road openly offers users the opportunity to buy and sell illegal drugs. Sales on this site alone have double over the course of six months, hitting $1.7million per month.[2]

This policy makes it easier for the police to track down the people responsible for these public messages, should they continue. If anonymity is still used, it will be significantly easier to put legal pressure on the website and its users, possibly even denying access to it. If anonymity is not used, obviously it is very easy to trace illegal activity back to perpetrators. In the more likely event that they do not continue, it at least makes organising criminal activities considerably more difficult, and less likely to happen. This means the rule of law will be better upheld, and citizens will be kept safer.[3]

[1] Williams, Phil, ‘Organized Crime and Cyber-Crime: Implications for Business’, CERT, 2002, http://www.cert.org/archive/pdf/cybercrime-business.pdf‎ p.2

[2] ‘Silk Road: the online drug marketplace that officials seem powerless to stop.’ The Guardian. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/22/silk-road-online-drug-marketplace

[3] ‘Do dark networks aid cyberthieves and abusers?’ BBC News. URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22754061

Counterpoint 

Moves illegal activity in harder to monitor areas. Those partaking in planning illegal activity will not continue to do so if hiding their identities is not possible. Instead, they will return to using more private means of communication, such as meeting in person, or using any online services that do guarantee anonymity such as TOR. While this may make planning illegal activity more difficult, it also makes it more difficult for law enforcement officials to monitor this behaviour, and come anywhere near stopping it: at least under the status quo they have some idea of where and how it is happening, and can use that as a starting point. Forcing criminals further underground may not be desirable. The authorities in cooperation with websites are usually able to find out who users are despite the veil of anonymity for example in the UK the police have arrested people for rape threats made against a campaigner for there to be a woman on UK banknotes.1

1 Masters, Sam, 'Twitter threats: Man arrested over rape-threat tweets against campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez', The Independent, 28, July, 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/twitter-threats-man-arrested-...

Title 
Reducing fraud using fake identities.
Point 

Anonymous posting can be used to make people believe you are someone who you are not. This can be done in order to acquire money from victims either by establishing a dishonest relationship or offering fraudulent business opportunities.[1] It is also a frequently used tool in child abduction cases, where the perpetrator will pretend to be a child or even classmate to gain enough access to a child in order to make abduction viable. It is estimated that nearly 90% of all sexual solicitations of youth are made in online anonymous chat rooms. Additionally, in the UK alone over 200 cases of meeting a child following online grooming, usually via anonymous sites are recorded.[2]

These are enormous harms that can be easily avoided with the removal of anonymous posting online.

[1] ‘Online Fraud’. Action Fraud. URL: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud-az-online-fraud

[2] ‘Online child grooming: a literature review on the misuse of social networking sites for grooming children for sexual offences’. Australian Institute of Criminology. URL: http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/3/C/1/%7B3C162CF7-94B1-4203-8C57-79F827168DD8%7Drpp103.pdf

Counterpoint 

Similar prevention can be achieved through raising internet awareness. In the case of children, parents taking a more pro-active role in monitoring and controlling their children’s online activities is likely to be more effective than the measures of this policy. Indeed, signalling that they do need to monitor their children can actually put their children in more danger, as there are considerable risks to children online even without anonymous posting.

Other kinds of fraud can be similarly avoided by raising awareness: people should be made to realise that sending money or bank details to people you don’t know is a bad idea. In fact, the removal of internet aliases may even encourage people to trust people they don’t know, but do know the real names of, even though that is no more advisable.

Title 
Damaging to freedom of speech.
Point 

People are only truly free to say what they wish when they do not have to worry about being personally persecuted, either by peers, strangers, or their government, for what they are saying.[1] Removing the right to post anonymously increases the pressures people feel to post in a particular way, and thus limits the extent to which they can speak freely.

[1] ‘Anonymity’. Electric Frontier Foundation. URL: https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

Counterpoint 

Freedom from consequences is not a necessary component of freedom of speech. If someone is free from legal restraints surrounding their ability to speak, they are free to speak. Freedom of speech does not entitle an individual to absolute freedom of consequences of any kind, including social consequences to their speech. While someone should certainly be free to state their opinion, there is no reason why they should be entitled to not be challenged for holding that opinion.

Title 
Limiting ability of oppressed individuals to seek out help and community.
Point 

Anonymous posting means people who are made to feel ashamed of themselves, or their identities within their local communities can seek out help and/or like-minded people. For example, a gay teenager in a fiercely homophobic community could find cyber communities that are considerably more tolerant, and even face the same issues as them. This can make an enormous difference to self-acceptance, as people are no longer subjected to a singular, negative view of themselves.[1] Banning anonymous posting removes this ability.

[1] ‘In the Middle East, Marginalized LGBT Youth Find Supportive Communities Online’ Tech President. URL: http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/22823/middle-east-marginalized-lgbt-youth-find-supportive-communities-online

‘Online Identity: Is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ The Guardian. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

Counterpoint 

Small reduction in ability to seek out help and community outweighed by a large reduction in hate speech. Anonymity is not essential to seeking out help and community. The internet is a large and expansive place, meaning that if an individual posts on an obscure site, people that they know in real life are very likely to see it. Even having your real name attached is unlikely to single you out unless you have a particularly distinctive name. Anonymity adds very little to their ability to seek out this help and community.

Additionally, anonymity is frequently used as a tool to spread hate speech,[1] which the people this point is concerned with are the primary victims of. Even if a lack of anonymity means a marginal reduction in their ability to seek out a supportive community, this is a worthwhile sacrifice for a significant reduction in the amount of hatred directed at them.

[1] ‘Starting Points for Combating Hate Speech Online’. British Institute of Human Rights. URL: http://act4hre.coe.int/rus/content/download/28301/215409/file/Starting%20points.pdf

Title 
Reducing the extent to which large and powerful organisations can be criticised.
Point 

Organisations with lots of wealth and legal power can be difficult to criticise when one’s name and personal information is attached to all attempts at protest and/or criticism. Internet anonymity means that individuals can criticise these groups without fear of unfair reprisal, and their actions are, as a result, held up to higher levels of scrutiny. For example, internet anonymity were instrumental in the first meaningful and damaging protests against the Church of Scientology by internet group Anonymous.[1] Similarly anonymity has been essential in the model for WikiLeaks and other similar efforts like the New Yorker’s Strongbox.[2]

[1] ‘John Sweeney: Why Church of Scientology’s greatest threat is ‘net’. The Register. URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/21/scientology_internet_threat/

‘Anonymous vs. Scientology’. Ex-Scientology Kids. URL: http://exscientologykids.com/anonymous/

[2] Davidson, Amy, ‘Introducing Strongbox’, The New Yorker, 15 May 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2013/05/introducing-strongbox-anonymous-document-sharing-tool.html

Counterpoint 

Protest of this kind is less meaningful. When an organisation such as this is criticised only by anonymous individuals, who are likely to be difficult to contact or learn more about, it is less likely to lead to any kind of long-term meaningful resistance. In the case of Anonymous and the Church of Scientology, there have been no notable acts of resistance to the Church of Scientology other than Anonymous.

Anonymous resistance makes other kinds of resistance less likely to happen, and rarely leads to significant change or action.

Title 
Limiting ability to experiment with identity.
Point 

The ability to post anonymously on the internet means that people can create a new identity for themselves where they will not be judged in terms of what they have done before. This can be particularly useful for people who are attempting to make significant positive reformations to their lives, such as recovering addicts, thereby facilitating self-improvement. Banning anonymous posting reduces individual’s abilities to better themselves in this way.[1]

[1] ‘Online Identity: Is authenticity or anonymity more important?’ The Guardian. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

Counterpoint 

Self-improvement through an alias or false identity is unlikely to lead to genuine self-improvement. When individuals have multiple identities, they may think of them as distinct from one another, and are thus unlikely to transfer self-improvement from one to another. For example, a recovering addict may only have a renewed attitude in their online identity, and not in real life where it is more important. This is unlikely to be beneficial, and may be actively harmful in terms of limiting the improvement of real life identities.

Bibliography 

ActionFraud. “Online Fraud”. Action Fraud. URL: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud-az-online-fraud

Ball, James. “Silk Road: the online drug marketplace that officials seem powerless to stop.”. The Guardian. 2013. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/22/silk-road-online-drug-marketplace

Choo, Kim-Kwang Raymond. “Online child grooming: a literature review on the misuse of social networking sites for grooming children for sexual offences”. Australian Institute of Criminology. 2009. URL: http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/3/C/1/%7B3C162CF7-94B1-4203-8C57-79F827168DD8%7Drpp103.pdf

Davidson, Amy, “Introducing Strongbox”, The New Yorker, 15 May 2013, URL: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2013/05/introducing-strongbox-anonymous-document-sharing-tool.html

Dueck, Stephen. “The Problem of Cyberbullies’ Anonymity”. Leo Burke Academy.2006. URL: http://www.lba.k12.nf.ca/cyberbullying/anonymity.htm

Electric Frontier Foundation. “Anonymity”. Electric Frontier Foundation. 2013. URL: https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

Ex-Scientology Kids. “Anonymous vs. Scientology”. Ex-Scientology Kids. URL: http://exscientologykids.com/anonymous/

Goldman, Eric, “UK's New Defamation Law May Accelerate The Death Of Anonymous User-Generated Content Internationally”, Forbes, 9 May 2013, URL:http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2013/05/09/uks-new-defamation-law-may-accelerate-the-death-of-anonymous-user-generated-content-internationally/

Krotoski, Aleks. “Online Identity: Is authenticity or anonymity more important?”. The Guardian. 2012. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

Henry, Ollie. “John Sweeney: Why Church of Scientology’s greatest threat is ‘net”. The Register. 2013. URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/21/scientology_internet_threat/

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Lowenfield, Jonah. “Twitter rife with hate speech, terror activity”. Jewish Journal. 2013. http://www.jewishjournal.com/lifestyle/article/twitter_rife_with_hate_speech_terror_activity

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Zara, Christopher. “Facebook Admits It Failed On Hate Speech Following #FBrape Twitter Campaign And Advertiser Boycott”. International Business Times. 2013. URL: http://www.ibtimes.com/facebook-admits-it-failed-hate-speech-following-fbrape-twitter-campaign-advertiser-boycott-1282815

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