Ron Rosenbaum

A "Driver's License" For Anonymous Cowards?

I don’t think it’s a good idea, at least in the way it’s been proposed here by Microsoft’s chief research and technology officer Craig Mundie.

But he’s addressing a genuine problem that I have made a recurrent cause on this blog: the poisoning of (small d) democratic discourse by anonymous abusive cowards who spew venom and then scurry behind a screen name to hide from responsibility for their words. It’s a factor in both liberal and conservative blog comment sections, although I thought conservatives were the ones in favor of “personal responsibility,” so you wouldn’t find them hiding from accountability and transparency.  You would think they would be the ones who would be in favor of taking responsibility for their words. Sadly this has not proved to be the case.

It’s a problem I’ve addressed in an essay in the forthcoming anthology New Threats to Freedom edited by Adam Bellow. It’s due out in May, according to

Mundie suggests the solution for the problems caused by internet anonymity/irresponsibility should be, as the New York Times blogger in the link above put it:

…authentication. He [Mundie] draws an analogy to automobile use. If you want to drive a car, you have to have a license (not to mention an inspection, insurance, etc.). If you do something bad with that car, like break a law, there is the chance that you will lose your license and be prevented from driving in the future. In other words, there is a legal and social process for imposing discipline. Mundie imagines three tiers of Internet I.D.: one for people, one for machines and one for programs (which often act as proxies for the other two).

As I said that’s a bad idea, way too extreme. But I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in seeing that there is a problem to be addressed. But I don’t think government should be involved. As I suggest in my forthcoming essay, instead of government regulation, anonymous abusive cowards — who basically occupy the same degraded social and moral status as anonymous obscene phone-call abusers did in the past — shouldn’t be locked up but rather should be discouraged by private sector means — by shaming them for their cowardice.

As one writer on this issue suggested, every time you see an anonymous abusive screen name comment you should imagine the words “I am a contemptible coward” appended to the coward’s comment.

I wonder how many contemptible cowards will come forward to identify themselves as such in response to this.