Thursday, 25 March 2010

Free speech

A.C. has had her 15 seconds on TSF, but we have to note that of the dozen or so people who responded to TSF's free speech posting, all but four were posted anonymously.

Only Linda Williamson, a former Toronto Sun editor, Ian Harvey, a former Toronto Sun reporter, Wayne James, a Toronto Sun editor, and a guy named Daniel put names to their comments.

Employees of Canada's largest newspaper chain have told TSF they are too intimated by Quebecor management to sign their names. They fear losing their jobs.

But when it comes to free speech, how can you take a stand and wave the free speech banner anonymously? Is that not a contradiction?

Fear not A.C.'s right to speak, fear for journalists who are too intimidated to speak their minds in an open forum.


  1. Actually, the right to speak anonymously is part and parcel of the right to free speech. Think about it.

  2. Well, the other reason for the anonymity could be the process you have to go through to's faster sometimes to post with no name, perhaps?

  3. Yes it is. In the same way that pornography is part and parcel of freedom of expression. It's the ugly, ignoble backwash I suppose we must accept if we are to be consistent in embracing the concept.
    Jim Slotek

  4. Scott in Grande Prairie26 March 2010 at 10:51

    Nice try, TSF. Nice try.

    C'mon, dude. Why don't you just admit that you overstepped a bit? When you suggested that right-wing ideologues from the U.S. shouldn't be welcomed to speak in Canada because of their politics, it was clear that it was a strange argument for any journalist - never mind one who worked for the cheeky, righty Sun Media chain - to make.

    But, instead of admitting you misread the situation, you're now implying that anyone who speaks out anonymously is somehow less worthy of speaking freely.


    So I guess that means that anyone who protests in a large group in front of a legislature should be flashing their drivers licences?

    Geez, Louise, TSF. When you've found yourself in a hole, stop digging.

  5. The right to speak anonymously is part and parcel of the You Tube generation. Posting comments online behind a screen name is the trend these days, unfortunately. Hell, it's pretty much encouraged by all our websites -- sign up, snag a screen name and say what you want (of course, at least with the former Osprey paper sites, people can flag items they find offensive).
    Some of us write signed points of view and columns for Sun papers, putting our names out there for people to see where the opinion is really coming from.
    While anonymous postings or ones behind a screen name allow people to say what they really want, without fear of retribution, using one's name adds weight and credibility to a comment.

  6. For a look at an industry board where a lot of people use their own names to make sharp commentary, check out - the Southern Ontario/Western New York Radio & TV board.
    About half the people there post with pseudonyms, the rest post with their real names - including some well-known on-air types. I know many broadcast managers don't like seeing their people posting there, but they do anyway. We're talking hardnosed companies like Corus.
    I think the difference is people in radio get fired a lot - everytime they get a bad "book" basically - so a lot of them have a screw-it attitude to hypothetical repercussions from speaking their minds.

  7. Jim, your equation of anonymous speech with pornography is well wide of the mark.

    Pornography has little or no substantive value in itself, but we tolerate it, or some of it, as part of a general willingness to tolerate speech we don't like, even when it has little value.

    Anonymous speech on the other hand may have lots of value or little value, depending on what it contains. You may read an anonymous post that you think is brilliant. You may then discount its value because the poster didn't sign a name, but that's very different from saying the post has no value in itself.

    To put it another way, judging speech on the basis of whether or not it's anonymous amounts to judging it on the motives of the speaker, rather than for what it says.

    Some examples of works that were originally published anonymously were Voltaire's Candide, Swift's A Modest Proposal and The Federalist Papers. Did they only acquire value once it became known who wrote them?

  8. Nice job scooping the cream (and yes, all those things did acquire value once it became known who wrote them. The same with the Richard Bachman books once Stephen King fessed up and the various aliases Anne Rice used. It's the nature of the beast).
    But let's not be obtuse about the normal role of anonymity - especially on the 'Net. If someone is going to say something hideously racist or homophobic, they will invariably be anonymous. Where character-assassination takes place, there will be anonymous accusations. Anonymity in East Germany meant being an informant. How does the right to anonymity jibe with the right to know the identity of one's accusers?
    And then there are the trolls. I've seen too many terrific online hangouts destroyed by them. I'm talking places that had been communities. One comedy group on Usenet I used to go to was so vibrant it spun off into a comedy festival at the Improv in L.A. (they called it Wired For Laughs). Then the trolls descended in relentless ALL CAPS!!! Perverse contentiousness, vicious attacks. Within a year, it was empty save for trolls and sock-puppets.
    I think anonymity fosters a an atmosphere of polarization and anger and discourages conciliation and compromise. It has festered on the net and slopped over into our body politic.
    So like Diogenes looking for an honest man, you can scour through the sewer of anonymice looking for Voltaire and Swift.
    Meanwhile, I will agree in my own way with the initial poster. Though I find anonymous speech, as it usually plays out, to be loathesome, I must hold my nose and defend its existence on a point of principle because I believe in free speech. I needn't encounter an online Voltaire to justify that.