The United States of Anonymous
Thanks to Eugene for inviting me to guest-blog about my new book, The United States of Anonymous: How the First Amendment Shaped Online Speech.
For more than a half century, U.S. courts have held that the First Amendment provides a right to speak and associate anonymously. Courts have applied this right to the Internet and found a robust—though not absolute—ability for people to control the identifying information they reveal online.
Anonymity is deeply rooted in the constitutional values and social norms of the United States. Anonymity has allowed speakers to communicate unpopular political viewpoints, whistleblowers to expose their employers’ illegal schemes or ineptitude, and citizen journalists to document corruption and fraud. Anonymity is also employed for nefarious uses, such as defamation, persistent harassment, and online crimes.
The longstanding U.S. tradition of anonymous speech has enabled Americans to often separate their identities from the words that they communicate. In my book, I examine how the First Amendment protections, combined with technology that prevents identities from being associated with online activities, have created a culture of anonymity empowerment.
Anonymity is the “condition of avoiding identification,” as David Kaye, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, wrote in 2015. What does it mean to empower anonymity? Does anonymity empowerment simply mean allowing people to hide their names when they post thoughts online?
My conception of anonymity empowerment is broad. Anonymity empowerment allows people to control what, if any, details about their identity to reveal. It includes, but goes beyon
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