- 25 Aug 09, 13:58 GMT
This morning, the Today programme featured a debate on the question of anonymity and blogging, made topical by a couple of cases where bloggers have had their identities revealed against their will.
I was asked by the programme's producers to write an audio essay which would act as an introduction to the debate. Here it is:
"According to a famous New Yorker cartoon, on the internet nobody knows you're a dog.
There are two views of that anonymity which has been an essential characteristic of the online world.
Either it allows the free expression of all sorts of interesting and subversive voices that would not otherwise be heard.
Or it makes the web a playground for every noisy and offensive bar-room bore - who doesn't even have to put a name to their ill-considered views.
Now it's becoming evident that this anonymity is, in any case, pretty fragile. Two cases have highlighted that fact.
First there was the police officer behind the award-winning NightJack blog>, revealed as Detective Constable Richard Horton after the Times persuaded a High Court judge that bloggers had no absolute right to keep their identities secret.
Then there was the unnamed female blogger who posted a series of offensive remarks about a Vogue cover model.
A New York judge ordered Google, which hosted the blog, to unmask Rosemary Port after the model Liskula Cohen sued, arguing that the comments were defamatory.
Now Google is on the back foot, accused of violating the blogger's privacy .The search company insists it does care about anonymity, and will only provide information about a user in response to a court order.
So, on both sides of the Atlantic it appears that the law is giving little protection to those who believe the internet should be an anonymous space.
There is too a growing momentum in the blogosphere behind the idea that those who want the world to hear their very strong opinions should have the courage to identify themselves - just as they would in a letter to a newspaper.
But - as recent events in places from Iran to Burma to China have shown - for some people, online anonymity can be a matter of life and death."
What I didn't discuss is an issue that sometimes occupies the writers of this and other BBC blogs - who exactly are the respondents who contribute their views on our posts, and should they remain in the shadows?
For instance, I'd love to know more about people like "ravenmorpheus" or "synthil", "hackerjack" or "mighty morfa power ranger".
Now anonymity is a valuable, indeed vital protection for junior staff inside corporations or public bodies, or people from countries with repressive governments, who would otherwise feel unable to contribute their views or provide valuable information to blogs like this.
But doesn't "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" have more credibility if she writes as Josephine Bloggs of Acacia Gardens?
I'd love to hear your views on this matter - and of course if you wish to remain anonymous, that's your choice.
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