Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Thought Police Part 2

I am going to respond to the two comments to my previous post on the main page. They were as follows:

  1. Or you can give yourself a pen name and use the anonymity of the internet to vent and rant out there opinions. Not that they can’t find out who you are, you just have to make it hard enough for them not to bother.
  2. Following on from Dash, have you seen Reporters without Borders' "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents"?

    Loads of information on how to blog anonymously. And produced with the support of the French Foreign Ministry, of all things.
Firstly, yes you can give yourself a pen name and the internet is a relatively anonymous medium if you choose it to be. The handbook is wonderful for people who must publish their opinions anonymously. Funny how not only me, but my two commentors both have such pen names.

However, I want to make a distinction between those who must blog anonymously and those who choose to blog anonymously. Currently, we are all choosers, because we live in a society which does not prevent us from blogging under our own names if we choose.

However, what happens when we publish opinions under our own names publicly? Kim Weatherall has an interesting take on this here. Kim points out that, as an ARC fundee, her funding is vulnerable to a government which objects to her opinion. This is where my distinction is most drawn out. Academics, for example, who write under their own names for whatever reason, should have the freedom to choose whether they can blog publicly. We risk moving from this choice to a society where people must blog anonymously to protect, for example, their government supplied research funding.

Herein lies the problem with our shift away from free speech. When I chose to blog under an assumed name, it was because the word on the street was that it could hurt your career, academic or commercial. In the days of Googling yourself, not everybody wants Mallesons to search their name, because they might want to protect their views, which might be incompatible with the corporate world they are looking to enter.

In any case, my point is that we should not have to choose whether to be anonymous. The whole potential of blogging is that it allows academics and others to publish their views in accordance with their free speech rights. Now that our government is tightening up the rules about when we have such rights and given the government is the sole arbiter of the parameters of free speech, we risk that kind of executive interference from which all free societies should indeed be free.


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