Anonymity and the speakers of free expression
Many people hold their free speech rights near and dear to their hearts, however, these liberties become more complicated when they belong to an unknown speaker.
The Internet has dramatically increased the mediums in which people can communicate. Be it the 140-character nuggets of a Tweet or an entire blog post, social media is creating numerous pathways for people to communicate.
These forums are used for a number of different reasons. While some are content with sharing funny videos or images, other use it as a place to voice their political opinions. The latter case is one of the major ways that people were able to mobilize in the Middle East and start the Arab Spring.
However, these communication pathways can be used for malicious reasons as well, which is leading many to criticize the anonymity that comes with the Internet.
What's wrong with the unknown?
While many profiles on social media reflect the people who own them, others are deliberately anonymous. There is something about being unknown on the Internet that gives a level of comfort to some, but is this necessarily a positive?
PC Pro examined the cases of UK Labour Party MP Stella Creasy and the feminist activist, Caroline Criado-Perez. Both have been subject to rape threats because of their political stances from "trolls" on Twitter. Often times, these trolls are people who remain anonymous and hide behind their profiles to avoid the repercussions of their actions.
While these are usually empty threats, the news source noted that they can still cause psychological harm. The news source goes to the extent of calling these threats terrorism, as speech is a form of political action and these words are used to insight fear.
Protecting the anonymous
However, others feel that being able to remain unknown on the Internet is an important way to protect free speech. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that anonymity can offer some comfort to people who would otherwise feel ostracized by society.
For example, a LGBTQ youth who has not yet come out to parents or friends could use the anonymity of the internet in order to find advice about the best way to do so. On top of this, people who are looking to get mental health issues off of their chest can use the internet to freely express their concerns without judgment.
In many cases it is difficult to be truly anonymous on the internet, however, these unknown elements allow users to speak ideas they may not otherwise with both positive and negative outcomes.