Anonymity and the Creeper
On reading this article about the unmasking of one of Reddit’s less savory trolls, I was struck by the disconnect between free speech and anonyous speech.
Anonymity can be used to challenge power structures, to protect those who could be killed for criticizing those in control. We saw this in the rooftop chanting by Iran’s Green Movement.
Anonymity can also be used to reinforce power structures. The KKK wore white masks to intimidate without risking their neighbors’ disapproval. The online creeper-trolls who assume that any women on the internet is there for their sexual gratification are similarly enforcing a power structure while hiding from the scorn of those they care about.
Two things strike me. First, the value of anonymity decreases as the cost of criticizing those in power goes down. Protecting the anonymity of others becomes a whole lot less important when the only consequence of their speech is that they’ll have to live with people knowing what they said. Second, protecting anonymity is not a virtue in itself. As with other things, the value of protecting something hinges on the value of what you’re protecting.