Consequences of Free Speech

Many masks, one voice.

After reading this article at denverpost.com I had some observations:

Internet Commenting
Judge orders ISP to release names of Wikipedia posters who slammed Facconable

By John Ingold
The Denver Post

In a ruling that could have broader implications for online privacy and free speech, a federal magistrate judge in Denver has ruled that anonymity for Internet commenters goes only so far.

Magistrate Judge Boyd Boland late last month ordered a Berthoud Internet- service provider to disclose the names of as-yet-unnamed Internet users to upscale fashion retailer Façonnable. The company claims the users posted false statements about it on Wikipedia.

Boland’s ruling provides Façonnable with an initial — though potentially short-lived — victory in its defamation lawsuit against the users.

“Absent the ability to identify the alleged malefactors,” Boland wrote, “Façonnable is left with no ability to vindicate its rights, and legal process is rendered meaningless.”

Boland’s ruling is on hold while U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello examines the issue. Attorneys for the Internet provider, Skybeam Inc., pleaded for Arguello to review the ruling, arguing that Boland ignored important free-speech concerns. It is unclear when Arguello might issue a ruling.

Paul Levy — an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group who is representing Skybeam — said Façonnable has failed to prove it suffered legitimate harm from the Wikipedia posts, which the company removed. If a company is allowed to unmask anonymous commenters just because they wrote something the company doesn’t like, Levy said, free speech on the Internet would be decimated.

“Unless there’s real evidence of wrongdoing, there’s no grounds to take away a person’s right to speak anonymously,” Levy said.

There’s more at the denverpost.com


“…evidence of wrongdoing…” – and thereby hangs the entire case.

I think one of the commenters summed it up very succinctly:

Free speech does not mean you are free from
the consequences of your speech.

Longmont’s extreme right-wing clearly believes that anonymity is their private preserve – a place from which to launch attacks on anyone they deem deserving. There are currently no less than five far-right Longmont websites that allow anonymous comments and don’t moderate (filter) them – i.e. it’s the Wild, Wild West and woe betide any ‘little person’ who steps out onto Main St. when these electronic gunslingers are blasting away.

I know of this phenomenon from personal experience: before my wife died of cancer I was routinely smeared by faceless entities on the Times-Call website, despite numerous complaints and reminders about their Terms of Service. After my wife died not only did the comments continue to attack me, they were now making remarks about her. One poster was so bold as to make their ‘handle’ (anonymous pseudonym) an attack in and of itself. This creature, going under the pseudonym of ‘Not So Bonita’* would (and still does because the Times-Call allows them to continue posting) post incredibly outrageous remarks, clearly hoping for a response.

It’s all part of trying to cast Progressives as villians and violent monsters. Much like meeting someone on the street, screaming fighting words in their face and then crying ‘help! I’m being attacked!’ when they get slapped. Consequences. It all comes down to consequences. The extreme right in Longmont feels the tide of public opinion turning and their always-tenuous grip on power slipping – and that means attack! Councilman Gabe Santos himself, during his run for council, issued the order ‘Let the attacks begin‘ and his campaign staff promptly admonished a long list of notables to ‘do the things they had agreed to do‘ – clearly no ambiguity about it, regardless of Mr. Santos’ attempt to spin the email’s content. Thence ensued a sustained campaign of mail pieces, anonymous comments and more, all aimed at shifting public opinion against his political opponents, successfully I might add. Now those same notables are enjoying largesse at the expense of the taxpayers in a number of forms – swift settlement of lawsuits the far-right themselves instigated being just one example. Nice return on investment there!

The Times-Call’s new management seems to have grasped the concept that moderation of comments needs to be more honest and follow the paper’s own Terms of Service. I’m glad to see that finally happening – the Times-Call, in my opinion, was losing all credibility with Dean Lehman at the helm, this sea change tells me the new management realizes that.

So when you’re reading the comments on a website and you come across an anonymous pseudonym like, say, Longmonter, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is this really? What’s their motivation for saying this?
  • How many people are really posting here – are several of the anonymous pseudonyms the same person? During the Bush years this was called ‘catapulting the rhetoric’ – the modern term is ‘sockpuppets
  • Would they say this if their real name was showing and they were held accountable for it?

The loudest mouth in Longmont’s Lunatic Fringe howls constantly about Accountability – yet is silent about the hateful stream of attacks on Progressives. In light of that, the questions above become even more relevant. The Times-Call, in the interest of decency, could force users to identify themselves with valid emails (as FRL does) but apparently doesn’t have the political will for it.

Be careful who you’re listening to Longmont – the extreme right is counting on you not vetting your facts and simply knee-jerking your way along when considering council seats. Dig deeper, know who’s talking and the rhetoric may look considerably different.


* my wife’s middle name was Bonita… so this hero was calling my lost beloved ugly – there’s some real classy discourse from the right. They remain anonymous to this day – and cowards.

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  1 comment for “Consequences of Free Speech

  1. Gregory Iwan
    June 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Descartes revisited. I post, therefore I am. Or is it, I blog, therefore I think? No; it was I think, therefore I am. And this apparently separates us from the lower forms of life on Earth? Show me the turtle that can blow itself up with an atomic bomb, and I’ll show you a hierarchy of creation. Why should anyone be so doggoned nasty to any other person anyway? I thought we were all travelers on the same ship. We are all made of stardust, after all.

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