“Anonymity is never having to say you’re sorry.”
Recently, China made news by requiring that online services be required to prove the identity of users who post, blog, or otherwise interact with the internet.
Free speech advocates immediately cried “censorship” and commenced a huge campaign to crush this supposed infraction on freedom, justice, and the American way. In China.
Frankly, I had to chew on this one a bit. Being a strong lover of our Constitution and the rights it conveys to us, I bristle at anything that may seek to limit those freedoms.
But then I thought: Our freedoms do have limits. For example, freedom of speech does not allow me to yell out “fire!” in a crowded theater. In a more modern example, I may not pretend to create gun noises at a crowded music or sporting venue.
Or, maybe it’s time we thought about the Second Amendment more carefully? Unlimited access to automatic (or easily modified semi-automatic) weapons is not healthy for the general public and is possibly a freedom that has been abused. (Note: I am also a proud gun owner.)
This question of a free and unfettered internet seemed to be a really great idea a few years ago. That is, until the darker side of the internet became apparent.
Or is it really the dark side of human nature that became apparent?
We are now learning about the big problems that the World Wide Web seems to be fostering: identity theft, internet scams, the proliferation of fake news, polarization, online bullying and harassment, spam emails, racism, pornography, and graphic violence. Just to name a few.
I look at online commentary and chats and am stunned at the level of incivility and rudeness exhibited by many. And, 99 times out of 100, these trolling comments come from people with tags such as “Libguy33” or “MAGAisME” or “UrCrazy11.” In other words, anonymous posters.
I would be willing to bet that this display of negativity and anger would never happen if the person was being confronted face to face. Direct contact forces civility and respect – often for no other reason than the participants don’t want to get punched.
That is an amazing thing about our nation. If you look at other “civilized” nations around the world, small divisive issues were often solved historically through violence.
Don’t believe me? Check out the history of France and England. Our two closest friends were more than happy to slaughter each other over minor differences in governance or who should be their leader. Not so, here in the United States.
Our country has had a remarkable history of avoiding violence and working together. We resolve our differences in Congress and at the ballot box. We don’t build a guillotine to kill people who don’t agree with us.
But something seems to be changing. There are many who seem to be viewing violence as a legitimate way forward and the internet facilitates the emergence of this dangerous behavior.
By hiding behind an un-traceable moniker, people can say whatever they want on the web no matter how racist, harmful, evil, vile, or repugnant it may be. Is this what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they penned the First Amendment?
I don’t think so. I think Madison and Jefferson wanted us to be able to share concerns about the actions of our government, how we should be taxed, and which laws would be best for the common good.
I do not believe their intent was to give us the power to “fat-shame” Madonna for her latest bikini pic or tell another soul on the internet to go kill themselves or post a fake bloody picture of the president’s severed head.
What is missing here? Ownership. We need to own the speech we make (meaning: the things we write/post on the internet). The Mighty Signal requires that we use our real names when posting on The Signal discussion pages. Does this make The Signal an evil bastion of anti-American sentiment?
Nope. It just means that we will be held accountable for our words and actions. If we seek to be abusive and insulting, we will lose the privilege of being part of the conversation. We are required to practice civility and respect while expecting the same from others.
Is this denying free speech? No, just the contrary. By setting up rules and insisting on civility, we give voice to those who might not otherwise want to participate and hold responsible those who would try to bully and intimidate.
So I say it’s time for us to identify ourselves. For people who do not have the guts to own their opinions and comments, participation on the internet should be lost.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and you can see all of his online comments. For better or worse. He can be reached at [email protected].