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[ NNSquad ] Re: New Facebook Feature Empowers the Dangerous "Comment Nazis"

Hi Lauren,

Great points as usual, however I think one area needs more emphasis: Making political posts under your real name can often result in serious threats. I have some first hand experience with this.

Some years back my childrens grade school was targeted by the ADF, a "Christian Lawyers" group which seeks to end gay rights, public schooling, and abortions. The ADF sent their media flacs to Rush Limbaugh, Mat Drudge and Fox news with the outright lie that the school had banned teaching the Declaration of Independence. If you find this hard to believe check the links here: http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/005219.php

This caused thousands of Rush, Drudge, and Fox fans to phone in threats to the school. Many of the parents in the community banded together and got on various blogs and news sites to try to set the record straight. Unlike the ADF we were rigorous about telling the truth, being polite, and not libeling anyone. However commentors on rightnation, freerepublic and other right wing sites would regularly threaten us with death for contradicting Rush and Hannity. If even 1% of the wingnuts who expressed this desire had the ability to pierce an anonymous online name I suspect there would have been bloodshed.

Online anonymity gave us middle class parents the protection to get the truth out without being physically attacked. Take that away and violent kooks will run the online debate.


On 3/7/2011 1:02 PM, Lauren Weinstein wrote:

New Facebook Feature Empowers the Dangerous "Comment Nazis"


Greetings. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying:

      "You have one identity.  The days of you having a different image
       for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you
       know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly ... Having two
       identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."

This statement, particularly the latter portion, could only have been
made by someone supremely self-confident -- and so young that they
haven't accumulated much "life baggage" as of yet.

In fact, it is an extremely alarming statement, one that would have
gladdened the hearts of despots and government spooks all through
human history.  Coming from the man child who controls the Facebook
empire, such a quote should trigger alarm bells of concern for every
person, everywhere, who cares about free speech and civil liberties.

A realization of Zuckerberg's stifling and twisted vision has now
emerged in a new Facebook-based Web site commenting system, that
permits sites to hand off their commenting infrastructures essentially
wholly to Facebook, and requires users who wish to leave comments to
do so using their Facebook identities (which, at least in theory, are
supposed to be their real names and identities)
  - http://j.mp/dWou4G (Technologizer).

Popular site TechCrunch (recently purchased by AOL, it's worth
remembering) immediately jumped on this bandwagon, along with this
ingratiating note to their readers:

      "More important, you'll notice that any comments you write are
       being left under your real name, which spells bad news for you trolls
       and spammers."

Bad news for spammers and trolls perhaps, but even worse news for
honest folks who wish to leave quality comments without being formally
associated with them.

This isn't just a matter of stifling whistleblowers -- though that's
an obvious effect.  It's a matter of having basic control over your
identity and your life.

Why the hell should it be the business of your boss or anyone else you
know, if you want to legitimately comment on a hobby site, or a game
site, or on any site about a controversial issue, for that matter?

Of course, there are two fairly obvious factors in play.

First is Zuckerberg's dream of turning Facebook into the world's
centralized identity platform across most or all aspects of our lives.
He's been clear enough about this goal.

But what the new Facebook commenting platform also does is very
cleverly and insidiously leverage the complaints of the "Comment
Nazis" to Facebook's advantage.

You don't know about the Comment Nazis?  Let me introduce you.

All over the Web, we've seen signs that powerful interests are simply
"fed up" with the free flow of information that anonymous comments
permit.  Such freedom has been particularly bothersome to parties who
feel that they've been aggrieved by unidentified comments' authors.

So we've seen more sites demanding that comments be signed with real
names, sometimes verified in one way or another.  The Facebook comment
ploy is a logical extension and centralization of this false
"anonymous comments are dangerous" meme.

I've been running online mailing lists and discussion forums for
decades -- all the way back into ARPANET days.  I've run unmoderated,
pre-moderated, and post-moderated venues.  In recent years, I've
depended mainly on the latter two models -- and they do take
continuing work to be effective when you're unwilling to let spam,
trash, racism, and other garbage pollute your materials.

Which points to another aspect of this controversy -- laziness.  By
outsourcing their commenting systems to Facebook (and so crushing the
ability of conscientious parties to speak anonymously), participating
sites "wash their hands" of most or all effort and responsibility for
comment moderation, at the same time that they flush free speech on
their sites down the toilet.

In cases of libel or defamation, etc., where *sufficient legitimate
showing* is made for an offense and real damages, I believe that it
can on some occasions be justified for a court to order the
"unmasking" of an "anonymous" commenter via login or IP address
information.  But this needs to be strictly limited and controlled
with rigorous due process.

But to force all comments into the realm of "single real identity"
public exposure -- as Facebook now appears intent on doing -- is
unacceptable, reprehensible, dangerous, and utterly at odds with basic
free speech rights in the United States at least.

There are costs to living in a "free society" -- or what used to be a
free society, at any rate.  One of those is that we need to accept
some speech that is painful or abhorrent, as part of the price for
protecting free speech and civil rights for us all.

When anonymous speech is destroyed, whether under a boot and rifle
shot, or via a simple mouse click on a massive social networking site,
the damage is strikingly similar in the long run.

People become nervous about speaking their minds.  They fear what
their neighbor or employer will find out about their private lives.
They self-censor and retreat from public life and discourse.

Anybody, and any firm, that encourages such travesties should be
condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Our fellow human beings, and history itself, demand no less.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org
  - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org
  - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
  - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein
Google Buzz: http://j.mp/laurenbuzz
Quora: http://www.quora.com/Lauren-Weinstein
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com