January 2, 2016

FLASHBACK: Why Online Anonymity Frightens Progressives.

Despite its importance to the evolution of liberal societies, or perhaps because of it, anonymity is intensely disliked by today’s trendy, progressive commentariat. Lance Ulanoff, editor-at-large of Mashable recently argued that anonymity should be abolished across the entire internet. SJW darling Wil Wheaton demanded the same for online videogames. Feminist academic Danielle Citron wants web companies to remove the “privilege” of anonymity at will.

Even I once wrote a column along these lines before coming to my senses and realising the value of anonymous and pseudonymous debate online.

Centres of anonymous culture, such as reddit, 8chan and 4chan, are the subject of particularly fearful narratives. 4chan is described as the “cesspool of the internet,” 8chan is a “troll forum,” and Reddit is a “worse black hole of violent racism than Stormfront.”

The commentary isn’t just detached criticism. Many of the writers engage in horrified, hyperbolic rhetoric, presenting anonymous commenters as dangerous evildoers in need of punishment. Ulanoff branded anonymous critics of former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao “sub-human cowards” who “spew hate,” and urged Reddit to record their personal addresses. Adding real-world accountability to Reddit, according to Ulanoff, is the only way to stop its “disgusting, hateful, and racist content.”

But Pao’s critics weren’t racist. They were concerned with free speech, and resented the former CEO for watering down the site’s previous commitment to that ideal. Ulanoff’s use of the word “racist” typifies the progressive approach to discourse: argument via scarlet letters, shaming, and “isms” instead of robust debate.

With influential columnists throwing around career-ruining allegations so casually, it’s little wonder that Redditors and 4chan users are so wary of abandoning their anonymity.

Lefties are a minority that relies on punishing speakers to ensure that the majority doesn’t realize just how big a majority it is. That’s why they hate free speech, and especially anonymous free speech. It’s why many campus groups demand that universities block Yik Yak.

Remember: They’re not well-meaning people who are just a bit overzealous. They’re horrible, nasty, awful people who want everyone who disagrees with them to be silenced and afraid. Keep this in mind, and respond with the appropriate level of respect and politesse.

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