LIBBY EMMONS: In defense of the anons

Catturd2 got doxxed by the Daily Dot. If you're not on Twitter that won't mean much, but leftist media is coming for the anons, and as they do, voices on the right, too, declaring that anonymous speech has no place in American discourse. Anonymous speech, however, has a long history in American political discourse, and as the platforms for speech expand, and more citizens are able to make use of those platforms to express their views, the protection of anonymous speech is even more important in America for Americans.

The 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission protects anonymous speech outright, saying:

"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority…It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation… at the hand of an intolerant society."

In today's online world, that perspective could not be more essential. Anyone can speak out on Twitter. Anyone can pick an avatar and share viewpoints, memes, incendiary ideas. But not everyone wants their online persona, their political perspectives, and the potential backlash to those to impact their daily life. We have seen how one online "misstep" has ruined lives. Relationships, employment, social standing are all at risk when a user posts, say, pro-Trump content on Twitter, or biologically-based anti-gender ideology views, or that they don't want their kids to be subjected to porn in schools. 

The idea from those on the right who seek to force anons into the open is that anyone who speaks must have the courage and fortitude to risk everything, even their own livelihoods, in so doing. From the left, the view is simply that if you're anonymous on Twitter and a supporter of Donald Trump, or a holder of views that are abhorrent or anathema to progressivism, you deserve what you get, even doxxing. It's shocking, given the push behind the anti-anon sentiment, that conservatives would hold the same view but for a different reason. The anti-anon push is an anti-conservative push. The left wants to put the anons in order to make them suffer publicly for their contrarian views.

There are countless anons on Twitter, many of whom are survivors of the meme wars of 2016, who speak their minds freely on twitter.com while going about their ordinary real-life lives. They speak anonymously online to prevent their personal and professional lives from falling into calamity. Are their voices of less value because they aren't in a position to back it with their names?

And before giving an answer, consider that we would not have a nation were it not for anon speech. After the Constitution was written, it had to be ratified by all 13 colonies, and the road to ratification looked grim. Three of the young men who drafted the document, arguably the most essential document in the global history of government, had to convince the not-yet-Americans that a republic was the way forward for the war-torn land.

Collectively, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, and signed them with one name: Publius. (Though mostly it was Hamilton, who wrote frequently under a pseudonym.) Public rebuttals to Publius came from pseudonymous anti-federalist The Federal Farmer, whose identity is still not confirmed, though there are suppositions. 

That public, anon debate was key to the formation of our democracy, and it let people hear the arguments without those arguments being colored by the perspectives of these men—and of course, key author Hamilton cut quite a bella figura in the colonial days during and after the American Revolution.

Founding Father Ben Franklin wrote letters under the name Mrs. Silence Dogood, and as a young man it was the only way he could get published. In the letters, the 16-year-old Franklin posed as a middle-aged widow—likely now people would dox him and say he was trans. The letters were published in Franklin's older brother's Boston Courant, which was begun as a paper opposed to inoculation. Sound familiar?

In 2002, the Supreme Court continued its long history of upholding anonymous speech as protected. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society v. Village of Stratton was a case in which the village demanded that those who engage in door knocking and pamphleteering register with the local government before doing so. SCOTUS said no, protecting the right to anonymous speech again.

The reason for these First Amendment protections is obvious, and nowhere was it said better than by the Court in 1995: "Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority." Political speech can be dangerous. Political power is coveted and those who wish to retain it either for their position, their man, their party, or their view can and do go to great lengths to do so. That protection of power can intimidate the opposition into silence, and that, according to our founders and our courts, cannot be permitted.

We have collectively watched as doxxing has destroyed lives, how one social media misstep can cost jobs, careers, and relationships. The anons don't deserve that, none of us do, but we all have the right to speak out, to say our piece, whether we stand on our own names, on avatars, or do so pseudonymously. Defenders of free speech must also defend the anons, it's the American thing to do.


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