We Don’t Need a Law to Stop Cyber-Cowards

cyberbullyFirst Amendment Rights Online

David Kravets, who writes for a blogsite called “Threat Level,” has sounded the free-speech-is-in-peril alarm over Republican-sponsored proposals in both houses of the New York legislature that would stop Empire State-based websites from posting anonymous comments.

Kravets claimed the measures threaten the First Amendment and “stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.”

In addition, Kravets mused, “Had the internet been around in the late 1700s, perhaps the anonymously written Federalist Papers would have to be taken down unless Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay revealed themselves.”

Surely Kravets isn’t likening the famous Federalist Papers to unsigned cyber-screeds, paranoid rants, and conspiratorial flights-of-fancy such as the ones about President Bush being behind the 9-11 attacks, poisonous jet contrails, FEMA concentration camps, and President Obama’s plan to outlaw fishing.

It is true that 18th and 19th century papers routinely published pen-named pieces. But I don’t know of any paper today that prints unsigned commentary, either letters-to-the-editor or op-ed pieces. Some papers don’t allow anonymous comments at the bottom of their online stories. I’m for all that. The courts evidently are cool with it, too.

Heck, the paper I wrote for even demanded phone numbers from letter writers, not for publishing, but for contacting the correspondent to make sure he or she actually penned the epistle.

Okay, I wouldn’t vote for the bill if I were a New York lawmaker. I’m uncomfortable with government requiring bloggers to sign their blogs.

But if this old reporter were a blogsite boss he’d exercise his First Amendment right to make bloggers tack their names on what they write or they wouldn’t get posted. I don’t see any difference between cyberspace and newsprint.

Kravets wrote that bill backers say they want to curb “mean spirited and baseless political attacks” and shine “the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identities.”

A sponsor of one of the bills admits he was cyberbullied. For what it’s worth — and in the spirit of ecumenism because I’m a lefty Democrat — here’s some advice from a guy who regularly attracts plenty of cyber hate mail from people who hide behind pseudonyms: ignore them.

berry craigIn my book, no name equals no credibility. With few exceptions, anonymous bloggers are nobodies and they know it. They’re desperate to be noticed, but don’t have the guts to put their names to their opinions. By and large, anonymous bloggers, especially those with cutesy or macho-sounding pen names, are legends in their own minds but nobody else’s, except maybe fellow chicken, no-name bloggers.

In any event, Anderson Cooper and Billy Bob Thornton were talking about anonymous bloggers on Cooper’s TV show the other day. Cooper decried “a kind of meanness that exists now” on the internet. He said anonymity permits people to “just throw mud at other people” and “say things they wouldn’t say in a million years face to face.”

Thornton suggested such a blogger was “some sort of mouth-breathing moron, who sits around…in his basement, and he’s all creeped out, and he’s got Cheetos bags everywhere.”

I’d bet that hit pretty close to some cyberbully homes.

But I’ll hand it to Kravets. His name is on his stuff.

Mine’s always on my stuff, too.

Berry CraigSo go ahead and call me — even anonymously — an enemy of the First Amendment for thinking people who run websites should require these cyber chickens – Cheetos-chomping creeps or otherwise – to sign their stuff.

If you do, you’ll put me in pretty crowded company. Thousands of newspaper editors and publishers – Republicans, Democrats, liberals, moderates and conservatives — agree with me.

Berry Craig

About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.

Comments

  1. I. B. Tinken says:

    I would like to politely disagree.  From my experience there are good reasons to use pseudonymns, nom de plume, avatars or whatever term you like. 
    Here is one example:  our local newspaper used to print names and addresses of letter writers.  One such writer used the newspaper to express her concern about some crime problem and lack of police attention.  It was something to do with drug houses or met labs in the neighborhood.  She was afraid for her family’s safety.  The newspaper dutifully printed her name and address.  I don’t know if she suffered any blowback, but I and others wrote angry letters about the callousness of publishing her address when she was already living in fear of her neighbors.  The policy was changed to publishing a real name and a general geographic identifier such as Northwest Omaha or Culver City.

    Even without a specific address published, I found it risky to write letters to the editor.  In one instance I criticized a “gee whiz” article that made light of plans to fire bomb Japanese cities during WWII by means of live bats equipped with incendiary devices.  I described that plan as a form of terrorism that would kill many thousands of innocent civilians.  For that opinion I got threatening phone calls from old g.I.s who were still angry about what the “japs” did to them.  Thankfully they didn’t have my address.  With the powers of internet searches today, such angry old men might easily get my address and show up at my door to dispatch me for my unpatriotic liberal views.

    But it is not only crazy people I fear stalking me and making trouble for my controversial opinions.  Employers, clients and neighbors might also distance themselves or cost me money if they knew my true views on various issues.  I don’t get paid to be a blogger, commentator or social critic.  I shouldn’t have to risk my financial well being as well as my safety to engage in honest discourse from an unpopular perspective.  Nor do I want to be on any police agency’s list of “troublemakers” for simply exercising my first amendment rights.  Forcing people to reveal their names with their thoughts may stifle some incivility of speech, but it will also stifle a lot of honest criticism of our society’s sacred mythology.

    As for credibility behind a pseudonym, I don’t see any evidence that Bob Dylan or Mark Twain have been disregarded or discredited for offering their comments or literary observations under assumed names.  Sometimes the writing speaks for itself — good or bad.   

    • Hwood007 says:

      Most 1940 homes in Japan were made of wood.
      The citizens would have defended their ciies and caused untold US deaths.
      War is hell, all of our bombing of Berlin (lived there) killed many citizens.
      It took years of bombing in Germany to end the war.
      The cities in Japan (lived there) were fire bombed In order to save GIs lives .
      We did not want a two year war to take the island so we used shock and all the force we could to end it quick.  This save lives on both sides. You are not much of a war fighter,bad eample. But I do agree with your local circumstances.  My paper uses name and city, which could be tracked to me. 

  2. Not all that is evil on the net can be alleviated by demanding that every poster be identified but i’ll bet 90% will go away. Anyone who comments using a pseudonym or avatar is irrelevant, just cowardly bullies striking from the shadows.

  3. Hwood007 says:

    I will have to agree with you, why should anyone be allowed to defame another in anyway without disclosing their name.  In the court room, we are all allowed to question those that speak against us so why not the same rules on the big bloob in the sky.  But if you call me a nut job, then can I also call you a nut job in return?? 

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