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Anonymous Speech: Right or Wrong?

One of the hallmarks of the Internet age has been the increasing prevalence of anonymous speech.

No one can question that there is a First Amendment right to anonymous speech. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that point in the case of McIntyre v. Ohio. Anonymous speech serves many important purposes: people who are aware of government or corporate wrongdoing can alert the public to wrongdoing anonymously in situations where they can’t use their real name.

Neither the government nor the courts should be in the business of regulating speech, and the marketplace of ideas is big enough to include anonymous speech under certain circumstances. And the Internet is certainly a forum for uninhibited and impassioned speech. But not everything that legally can be said should be said, and in most cases a writer’s credibility is higher when they’re willing to put their name behind what they say. So anonymous speech is alive and well – but anonymous or not, it doesn’t hurt to think before posting.

But a small number of online commentators post racist, homophobic, sexist and mean-spirited comments and hide behind the cloak of anonymity given to them as online commentators, as one editor has said. The editor wrote: “We’re trying to balance people’s right to free speech with the responsibility not to be slanderous, libelous, sexist, racist or just plain mean.”