Jackman Blau

In Defense of ANONYMOUS, FREE Speech for ALL

In Law, Uncategorized on 23 June 2011 at 2:27 am

To the People of the United States of America.

My aim herein is to successfully argue and convince of the virtues of anonymous free speech at the INDIVIDUAL level and also at the GROUP level.

The history of the United States of America is seen to have been greatly affected by the use of anonymous speech.  One of the most famous publications concerning American politics and government, The Federalist Papers, was signed as “Publius”.  The 85 articles attempting to persuade the People of the State of New York to adopt the Constitution are considered vital to understanding our Republican government.  In addition, Publius addresses the worries and criticisms of those that opposed the Constitution, some of whom voiced their concerns in The Anti-Federalist Papers, which were similarly authored under a pseudonym.

This conversation that was had back and forth between the anonymous Federalists and Anti-Federalists allowed the public to focus on the content of the ideas expressed, and not who expressed them.  One of the 3 authors of the Federalist Papers – Alexander Hamilton – was a member of the very New York State Delegation that was having so much trouble accepting the Constitution.  Even though Hamilton openly expressed his view that the Constitution should be adopted quickly by New York, if he had disclosed his identity in The Federalist Papers it is not hard to see that the focus would have shifted from the content of the message to who it was that relayed it.  Publius openly admits his views in Federalist No. 1 when he says, “I am clearly of opinion, it is your interest to adopt it.”, but Hamilton’s full-name disclosure would have shifted the focus onto the New York Delegate who was advocating his views.

Even before America declared its independence, anonymous pamphlets were distributed that criticized King George’s rule over the Colonies.  This sheds light on another virtue of the anonymity in speech: It PROTECTS the UNPOPULAR minority from the majority’s public RETALIATION.  It will no doubt be seen that all speech is important, even the speech that challenges status quo and preconceived notions.  Even the hateful, disturbing speech is important if only to act as a symbol of our belief in the value of all free speech.  If we allow the majority to ridicule and suppress the points of view of the minority by forcing disclosure, then we have allowed ourselves to legitimatize tyranny, the majority’s power over the minority.  Thusly, protecting the expressions of the unpopular minority by allowing anonymity is critical for the continuing growth of a society and culture.

A lesser virtue, but one nonetheless, is the reporting by newspapers of information received at the condition of anonymity.  People working under members of Congress or the President’s Administration routinely divulge information to the Press they would not have otherwise been able to if their identification was mandatory.  While this calls into question the accuracy of the information divulged, it allows lines of communication to remain strong between the Press and these kinds of individuals.  It also offers a forum to divulge potentially important, but secretive information without fear of retribution.  The whistleblower, both identified and anonymous, are valued in today’s society.

Currently, we as a society have accepted the virtue of INDIVIDUAL anonymous free speech in its wide-spread, almost expected, usage on the Internet.  And while anonymity in this medium has routinely shown us ugly, horrendous, frightful behavior in our fellow man, it has nonetheless allowed us to provide commentary and express our views without fear of public retaliation.  The internet celebrates the right to anonymous, free speech, and even those who disagree may do so in an anonymous fashion.

The conclusion drawn so far is that the individual’s right to anonymous, free speech should be respected due to its strength and fairness in a democracy.  So we arrive at a question which, I admit, has not offered itself as easy an answer to me.  It is:

Should a like-minded GROUP OF PEOPLE be granted the same right to anonymity as a SINGLE INDIVIDUAL?

There are many considerations in regard to the question:
          – Should the GROUP be disclosed, but the INDIVIDUAL members remain hidden?
          – Should the GROUP be disclosed, and the INDIVIDUAL members be disclosed?
          – Should the GROUP at large be allowed to remain anonymous in expression?
          – Should the rules apply to everyone equally?
          – What entity should make this kind of decision?
          – Should the decision be at the owner of the medium’s discretion?
(It is my understanding that the first scenario is the standard, generally speaking, in the United States of America.)

It is perfect human nature for people of like-minded thoughts and interests to aggregate into a single body.  This is easily illustrated in political parties and advocacy groups, but also extends far outside of the political realm into outdoors clubs, PTAs, and even magazine subscribers.  Thus, it would be ridiculous to disallow the meeting together of people advocating for a single cause.

Certainly though, the collective of 1000 like-minded individuals has an advantage over the single person with views contrary to the collective.  Most easily argued, the group has an advantage when it comes to the sheer volume to which they can make their message heard.  Considering advertisement, and any other widely distributed medium which requires a fee to utilize, the group’s advantage is obvious.  The group has more resources at hand and can more easily extend the reach of their views.  Next, considering the debate that might go on between the group and the individual, the argument constructed by the sum of 1000 like-minded individuals is, all things considered, typically going to be more powerful and cogent than that of one person.  The group can put their selected best arguments forward, while the individual’s arguments are limited to their own.  (Even the number of people belonging to a certain group over another could be a point of debate as to more favorable public reception.)  It is only in focusing and reporting on the great efforts put forth by an individual to express themselves that they gain any strength not accessible to the group.

So it seems that, without much evidence to the contrary, a GROUP is altogether more influential than an INDIVIDUAL.  In response, the individual can pursue two courses of action: 1) Continue on as an individual, or 2) Join or form a group.  In this sense, fighting fire with fire has been the strategy adopted by groups at odds with each other.

Returning to the question of anonymity for groups, I will herein argue for the GROUP’S & MEMBER’S RIGHT to ANONYMITY IF DESIRED (with acknowledgement that my current outlook is not rigid and may well change in the future).  This means a group may choose to be anonymous and the members of the group may choose to be anonymous (specifically concerning their membership).  What follows are my points of debate and discussion:

1) It is UNDESIRABLE for a GROUP to remain ANONYMOUS when ENGAGING in SPEECH.

If we give the group a right to not disclose itself, we would hardly expect this to occur.  The reasoning is that even groups have an advantage over one another in considering the extent to which a message can reach the public.  So it is perfectly natural to expect that a group’s goal is to foster its own growth.  Therefore, we can draw the conclusion that when a group engages in public discourse, such as through advertisement campaigns, its goal is always twofold: to express its viewpoints, and to attract membership of like-minded people.
We would also expect a group to harbor pride in itself and its cause, and, as such, publicly disclose itself whenever the opportunity presents itself.  The reasons for this are psychological: if the members of a group are proud to belong to that group, they are more likely to engage in public discourse and disclosure when issues that concern the group are presented.  Concluding the point, groups have a strong incentive to disclose their identity in activities concerning expression.

2) The GROUP’S PROTECTION from MAJORITY CONSENSUS is still DESIRABLE.

Just as the virtue of an individual’s right of expression without fear of public retribution is obvious, the same virtue is seen in group expression.  This can be easily argued when a small group is considered, such as a group advocating socialism or even communism in the United States.  They may wish to engage in public discourse, but remain completely anonymous so the content of their ideas and viewpoints will be taken into consideration, and not so much the fact they are socialists or communists.  Again, the shifting of the focus in this regard may be undesirable to a group.

So then, if this can be argued for the group with unpopular points of view, what about the group that rests easy knowing it holds popular opinion in the majority?  Should they be treated differently knowing they enjoy a broader acceptance of ideas?  I would make two points here.  First, there is no good way of establishing what is a popular, majority group and what is an unpopular, minority group.  This is obvious and need not be argued.  Second, the minority’s unpopular views should not be given special treatment simply because of it.  Unpopular views expressed are not always noble and well-reasoned and thusly should not be held on a pedestal, but instead, in this case, be left to die.  Those unpopular ideas that hold worth and value will continue to enjoy debate and discussion as time progresses, and will propagate through the masses on its own accord.  So, I hold to the belief that good, but unpopular points of view will find themselves being brought to the attention of the populous on their own accord, and the minority group’s expression thereof should not be treated in any way differently or specially from the majority group’s own expression.  One of this country’s strengths is the protection of the minority’s viewpoints in discourse, not the holding of such up on a pedestal.

3) The MEMBERS of a GROUP have a right to ANONYMITY regarding MEMBERSHIP.

Just as the individual has a right to anonymous, free speech, it can be broadened to reason that an individual has a right not to be identified as belonging to a group that partakes in free expression.  For if such membership were disclosed, it would eliminate the individual’s freedom to engage in unpopular debate without fear of public retaliation or retribution.  Concluding the point, if you accept the individual’s right to anonymous, free speech, then you must accept the group’s right to shield from the public the identity of its members.

4) The actions of LARGE FIRMS & GROUPS should not dictate the policy taken towards ALL FIRMS & GROUPS.

This, here, is the heart of the debate.  We know large, wealthy corporations belong to advocacy groups and that they use their grand wealth to disproportionately express a point of view.

The best example I can give regards the issue of debit-card swipe-fee reform: A law reducing the amount of money banks profit from retailers (from 44 cents to 12 cents) every time a consumer uses a debit card, which was fought hard against in a public advocacy campaign.  The group known as American Bankers Association (ABA) was at the heart of the campaign, and their name and logo were attached to every advertisement railing the swipe fee rule reform.  All over the Metro, in every newspaper, on Billboards, and on the Internet were advertisements warning of the swipe-fee reform and its terrible consequences; it was inescapable.  ABA does not disclose its member banks, but one could reasonably assume big banks (such as BB&T and Bank of America) are members, and that one of ABA’s primary functions is to shield banks (big and small) wishing to advocate for a cause while avoiding retaliation for such.  In this example the question is should ABA disclose its members?

While retaliation against individual ABA members for wanting to piss all over retailers and consumers can generally be agreed upon here, trying to change public policy to force ABA member disclosure is ill-intentioned, vindictively motivated, and undesirable when considering the effect upon smaller groups.  I would argue here that there is no fair, agreeable, and realistic law that would force the wealthy and grand advocacy groups to disclose their biggest donors while letting the small groups and small members hide their membership.  Even attempting to form the boundaries to such categories would be fruitless in garnering widespread acceptance.  Let us also consider that the unintended consequences of such a policy could stifle the free expression of the small group membership without fear of public retaliation.

A point of real contention here, is that the wealthy have an unfair advantage over the meek, and that’s the way it is.  Should we value equality over liberty?  Would we suppress the freedoms of the popular majority in order to allow equal footing for the minority?  These are some deep philosophical inquiries, but here, concerning group anonymous free speech, I would argue it is more desirable to grant the same liberties and opportunities to groups irrelevant of size or wealth, than to try and give equal footing to all groups.
So the conclusion of this point, though unfair and unequal, is that in order to protect the liberties enjoyed by the minority group, the same must be granted to all, including the disproportionately large majority regardless of their perceived abuse.

I have argued herein that the individual’s right to anonymous, free speech must always be respected, and the same should apply to a group of individuals, and that no exception should be taken to either.  The reasons given are both principled and pragmatic in nature.  It was said to Archibald Stuart,

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.”

PUBLIUS.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: