Why anonymity destroys freedom of expression

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Who still believes the internet is free and uncontrollable must be rather naive. Our freedom of expression is in grave danger. You might think I am referring to sinister secret services, conspiracy theorists, or radical extremists from left and right. No. I am referring to the people who are out of control. I am speaking about the people lacking the guts and decency to stand by what they have to say.

Blogs, social networks and internet forums have become the playing field of anonymous trolls. Conspiracy theorists and extremists are long outnumbered by people who hide behind pseudonyms and fake pictures.

Respect is the basis of free expression

Their language and actions are free of respect and, therefore, they lack the basis of free expression. This kind of inflammatory language is the opposite of democratic discourse where people exchange their opinions and point of views. Democratic discourse can and should be controversial. But who uses technology only to denounce, discredit, hurt, attack, insult and defame distorts the freedom of expression beyond recognition. Until it’s worthless.

People who hide behind fake profiles defend their anonymity claiming their right to free expression is endangered if they have to use their real names. They say they would suffer disadvantages by posting statements they could be held accountable for.

Arguments like this play into the hands of those who want to control the internet, for instance, governments. One of their strongest arguments is that anonymity makes people lose their last scruples and all respect.

If you are anonymous, you are meaningless. An internet whos inhabitants have neither name nor address also has no voice. At least not one that can be taken seriously. Therefore, anonymous internet inhabitants are silent and powerless.

Perhaps you will say that demanding a non-anonymous debate would destroy the charm of the internet. The subculture, the undergroundy many are so proud of (for reasons I seem unable to comprehend. Is it an honor to hide? Is it brave? Is it cool?)

We are not talking about the board member who calls himself “horny goat 1957” on a porn site. We’re speaking about the expression of controversial and/or political opinions.

Pseudonyms are necessary in a dictatorship, in a democracy they’re not

Pseudonyms harm an open society

Pseudonyms might be necessary for a dictatorship. Who uses them in a democracy harms the open society. The freedom of speech also requires decency and fairness. The freedom of expression only has a meaning if the words are heard from real people by real people. Trolls and anonymous snipers are as able to influence change as a group of punks beating up a granny at night with baseball sticks. They are what they are: cowardly perpetrators.

Citizens can influence change. Citizens have names.

Lack of democratic mindset

The internet is free as long as we are in control of ourselves. Where democratic mindset is missing, narrow views grow. Soon everything that’s different from our small, limited beliefs gets attacked. Yours truly, John Doe.

Anonymity (in a democracy) does not lead to freedom. It leads to ignorance, self-inflicted autism, and arbitrary opinions. Is that worthy of protection? No! It’s dangerous. Anonymity feeds the stalkers, the cowards, the cellar trolls and helps everyone who is against an open society. An open society can endure different opinions. But cowardliness is the vanguard of tyranny, it’s its strongest legion.

The freedom of speech and freedom of expression

Free speech and the freedom of expressions are every citizen’s right. On the internet and everywhere else. But both are rendered obsolete when anonymization and pseudonyms devalue the worth of a speech. Who writes and speaks without a name cannot be held accountable and is not available for feedback.

How should wisdom be shared under the jester hat of anonymous indifference?

The right to free speech and freedom of expression is more important than the right to anonymity. We have to protect and fight for our democratic rights. Anonymous profiles are not able to protect anything besides cowardice. They don’t care to know the true meaning of civil courage. It’s the braveness of the decent.

And, hey, if you are afraid to speak up because you feel that in your country the power is shifting from democracy to tyranny … might be a good time to sign statements with your real name, don’t you think?