Is be­ing anony­mous a good thing?

The Signal - - OPINION - Steve LUNETTA

“Anonymity is never hav­ing to say you’re sorry.”

-Anony­mous

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 an­tiAmer­i­can 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.

I look at on­line com­men­tary and chats and am stunned at the level of in­ci­vil­ity and rude­ness ex­hib­ited by many.

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 slunetta63@ya­hoo.com.

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