January 08, 2016

In defence of online anonymity

Stephen BoucherRebel Blogger

Yik Yak, a popular app among college students, is an anonymous message board, is also under scrutiny from feminists and other social justice movements on university campuses, who say the app facilitates hate speech and perpetuates rape culture.

A Change.org petition calling for Yik Yak to change its policies or be shut down currently has over of 80,000 signatures. The app has already been banned at the College of Idaho and several high schools and middle schools.

Yik Yak users have indeed said vile things about certain groups and individuals. However, any anonymous threat or insult made on Yik Yak could also be made anonymously via phone or email. Yet progressives don't want to ban phones or email. They want to destroy Yik Yak because it has an audience. It isn't threatening language that progressives are worried about here -- it's the dissemination of ideas that they cannot control.

Yes, there will always be those who use services like Yik Yak to harass, humiliate, and threaten, just as there will be those who hold controversial ideas in areas such as historic revisionism and fringe political philosophies. Short of legitimate threats of violence (and even here it becomes hard to draw the distinction due to idiotic notions like "micro-aggressions" and "rape culture"), speech need not be censored, because the truth will always prevail in the marketplace of ideas.

However, as soon as one group has the power to decide what constitutes harmful discussion and what doesn’t, the truth will always be distorted.

The power of anonymity cannot be underestimated. I respect those who sacrifice their reputation, careers, and even their lives to speak freely. However, anonymity should not be readily dismissed simply based on the complaint that an individual cannot be held accountable for it.

In an ideal world, people would respond to ideas with different ideas instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks. When Thomas Paine published “Common Sense” under a pseudonym, he stressed that it was “the Doctrine, not the man” that mattered. Paine thought that his being an Englishman was irrelevant to the arguments he presented, and it would merely serve as a distraction. Perhaps his pamphlet would not have achieved the remarkable success that it did had he put his name on it.

Anonymity is quite literally liberating; if people's identities had no bearing on their arguments, we'd surely live in a much freer society.

Anonymity gives an audience to those who would be otherwise “hung out to dry," as the case was with Nobel laureate Tim Hunt who made an off-color joke about women being emotional and was subsequently sacked from his position because of, well, emotional feminists.

Let us recall the preferred methods of attack for social justice warriors: defaming individuals, getting them fired, forcing them out of business, scaring them off social mediaflexing their mob muscle, and so on. Anonymity strips this power from them, and now the person in a vulnerable position -- due to his work, involvement in academia, familial commitments, and so on -- is free to speak his or her mind.

The anonymity offered by services like Yik Yak is the closest we'll ever get to the Platonic free speech ideal of ideas against ideas: no personal attacks, no political or physical muscle, just raw, educated discourse. Anonymity removes the “hominem” from ad hominem arguments, and for this reason it must be protected.

Anyone with rebellious ideas should develop some significant anonymous presence – it’s the ideas that matter after all, and one can speak far more freely without accusations of “mansplaining” or “privilege.” (Evidently I forgot to check mine this morning).

Yik Yak is far from perfect: the degree of its promised anonymity has been questioned; the company has deleted posts that mention competitors; and they've installed "geo-fences" that disable the app in areas where it is banned.

That said, moves to ban Yik Yak represent a far greater threat to speech. When we lose the power to be anonymous, the last vestige of freedom of opinion will be lost.

(Editor's note: For an alternative opinion about online anonymity, here's TheRebel.media's Gavin McInnes:)



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commented 2016-01-08 15:23:00 -0500
Freedom of speech is loosing ground every day. We need to fight for it tooth and nail. I knew we hit a dangerous milestone when the Supreme Court decreed that even though something was true it could still be labelled hate speech.
commented 2016-01-08 14:27:31 -0500
THe left thinks they are all about freedom for some reason, yet they attack it every chance they get.