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Internet secrecy: A license for depravity

By Scott Tibbs, December 14, 2011

The Indianapolis Star is facing a lawsuit, with the plaintiff seeking to force the newspaper to reveal the true identity of an online commenter. There should not even be a lawsuit, as the Star should freely turn over this information. As I have said in the past, anonymity on the internet is almost always a license for depravity, and newspapers should never protect the identity of someone who is defaming a real person. (Read the text of the article here.)

I posted a comment on the article on HeraldTimesOnline. One of the responses:

Yet many of us now know that Scott Tibbs posted for a long time as "ST" at www.mobtalk.net Watch how you quote scripture ST. You are speaking with a forked tongue!

This is what I like to call a "factually correct lie." As I said on Twitter over the weekend, it is not possible to be truthful without being factual, but it is possible to be factual without being truthful.

My username on MOB-Talk is "ST." However, every single person on that forum knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am Scott Tibbs. I have never been anonymous there, so he is accusing me of doing something I have not done. This is the dictionary definition of libel. Accusing me of being anonymous for the purpose of attacking my honesty and credibility is clearly and plainly libelous. Not surprisingly, the so-called "moderators" on HTO have refused to delete this comment. They have no honor and they have no integrity.

Furthermore, the troll on HTO obliterates his own argument, since I am obviously not anonymous if he knows who I am. This demonstrates an astonishing lack of critical thinking skills. That is far too common in this country and makes me fearful of how long we will be able to survive with so many stupid people in the population.

And, as is so often the case in debates about Internet secrecy, you have people wailing and screaming about how they have to be anonymous because they will be threatened, stalked or harassed offline. But I don't believe for one single solitary second that 99.9% of the people screeching and shrieking about the "danger" of using their real name are actually in any real danger. I simply don't believe it. The only way I would ever believe this claim is if Jesus Christ came to earth Himself and told me to my face that this is the case.

I say this as someone who has been viciously attacked personally, offline, for things I have said online. I have had political opponents attempt to blackmail me into silence on a number of occasions because they found what I said politically inconvenient.

But the fact of the matter is that the alleged "threat" that comes with using one's real name is dramatically overblown. The reality is that the "danger" that comes with using your real name (guffaw!) is nothing more than an excuse for sniveling, spineless, pathetic cowards to spew filth at real people and murder their reputations without ever being subjected to the same scrutiny. It's pure cowardice and these people have no integrity or honor.

As I said last week, there is no reason that story comments are any more "dangerous" (guffaw!) than letters to the editor, and the Herald-Times has always required that LTTE be signed with the author's full name. While there have been false accusations and personal attacks in LTTE, the H-T usually edits for defamation and good taste.

Another commenter said " It's the publisher, not the anonymous jerk, who's responsible for content."

This is obviously wrong. People are responsible for what they post. Simply saying "the newspaper allows it" should never be used an as excuse to spew filth at others from behind a fake name like a pathetic coward.

Finally, this is not a free speech issue. If all newspapers (including the Herald-Times) decided to require posters to reveal their real names (which will never happen) no one's free speech rights will be violated. The government is not going to prevent you from posting your opinion. What will happen is that you will no longer be able to do it from behind a mask. Furthermore, legally actionable speech (such as libel or threats of violence) has never been protected under the Constitution - and newspapers should not protect the names of those who post such filth.