First Amendment

In Defense of Online Anonymity

Jeff Kosseff's The United States of Anonymous makes a strong case for letting people hide behind the First Amendment.

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In 2019, Jeff Kosseff published The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet, the definitive "biography" of the controversial law known as Section 230. Part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230 grants broad immunity to websites and internet service providers from legal actions based on user-generated content. Section 230 enabled the participatory nature of the web, from YouTube videos to Yelp reviews to basically all of Twitter. It's the reason why Reason can't be sued for libelous or defamatory content posted in our comments section (though the authors of such comments can be).

Now Kosseff, who teaches cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy, is back with The United States of Anonymous: How the First Amendment Shaped Online Speech. His new book looks at the history of and controversy surrounding anonymous speech and activism.

Before becoming a law professor, Kosseff worked as a journalist at The Oregonian, where he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a winner of the George Polk Award. Nick Gillespie talks with him about why he thinks anonymous speech is generally a good thing but getting harder to maintain, why Democrats and Republicans alike keep freaking out over Section 230, and how his past as a journalist informs his interest in protecting freedom of speech and assembly.

Interview by Nick Gillespie; edited by Adam Czarnecki.

Photo Credits: Rafael Henrique/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Rafael Henrique/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Andre M. Chang/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Dreamstime/TNS/Newscom

NEXT: CDC: The Movie

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  1. Section 230 enabled the participatory nature of the web

    Even if you are abjectly ignorant of BBSs, Usenet, and email, this still isn't entirely clear or accurate.

    1. Section 230 …
      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20200531/23325444617/hello-youve-been-referred-here-because-youre-wrong-about-section-230-communications-decency-act.shtml

      OPEN QUESTIONS FOR ALL ENEMIES OF SECTION 230

      The day after tomorrow, you get a jury summons. You will be asked to rule in the following case: A poster posted the following to social media: “Government Almighty LOVES US ALL, FAR more than we can EVER know!”

      This attracted protests from liberals, who thought that they may have detected hints of sarcasm, which was hurtful, and invalidated the personhoods of a few Sensitive Souls. It ALSO attracted protests from conservatives, who were miffed that this was a PARTIAL truth only (thereby being at least partially a lie), with the REAL, full TRUTH AND ONLY THE TRUTH being, “Government Almighty of Der TrumpfenFuhrer ONLY, LOVES US ALL, FAR more than we can EVER know! Thou shalt have NO Government Almighty without Der TrumpfenFuhrer, for Our TrumpfenFuhrer is a jealous Government Almighty!”

      Ministry of Truth, and Ministry of Hurt Baby Feelings, officials were consulted. Now there are charges!

      QUESTIONS FOR YOU THE JUROR:

      “Government Almighty LOVES US ALL”, true or false?

      “Government Almighty LOVES US ALL”, hurtful sarcasm or not?

      Will you be utterly delighted to serve on this jury? Keep in mind that OJ Simpson got an 11-month criminal trial! And a 4-month civil trial!

      1. You're nothing more than a Nazi excusing and advocating your "government almighty's" banning of speech and evading the first amendment by using corporatist partnerships.
        Why do you hate free speech and First Amendment rights, Sqrlsy?

        1. Why are ye such a Marxist, "Expert Christian Theologian"?

          Lusts-after-your-web-sites Marxist “Christian Theological Expert” MammaryBahnFuhrer thinks that one of the Ten Commandments reads as follows:

          Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. Unless thy neighbor art a corporatist in Thine Righteous Eyes, in which case, Thou shalt steal ALL of their stuff & shit, howsoever Thy Power-Hungry Right-Wing Wrong-Nut Marxist Heart may desire.

          To the question of, "Can MarxistMammaryBahnFuhrer understand ANYTHING that is critical of MarxistMammaryBahnFuhrer and-or Her hypocrisy?", the answer is, VERY clearly, "No"! It is ALSO quite clear that it is NOT due to the poor writing skills of those who criticize Her... And furthermore I think it is reasonably clear that it's not due to Her lack of reading skills either; She IS apparently reasonably literate... It is CLEARLY due to Her arrogant "Perfection in Her Own Mind"! Whatever appears, at a casual glance, to be good for MarxistMammaryBahnFuhrer and Her Tribe, is the BEST thing all around! And all who question this (or Her) are evil!

          1. Start working from home! Great job for students, stay-at-home moms or anyone needing an income... You only need a computer and a reliable internet connection... Make $90 hourly and up to $12000 a month by following link at the bottom and signing up... http://jobscash.tk

        2. Marxist MammaryBitchFuhrer is welcome to join the likes of "Parler" which is known to... Ban liberals!!! Can you IMAGINE that?!?! Is Marxist MammaryBitchFuhrer screeching and hollering for Government Almighty to micro-manage Parler? Geezum, I wonder why not?

          https://www.techdirt.com/2020/06/29/as-predicted-parler-is-banning-users-it-doesnt-like/

          As Predicted: Parler Is Banning Users It Doesn't Like

          from the that-did-not-take-long-at-all dept

          1. Your "government almighty", specifically the Biden administration, is violating the First Amendment by getting Facebook, Google and Twitter to ban people. Totally illegal, and yet you say "Go to Parler".
            Even though you know that your government almighty had Amazon deplatform Parler.

            Again Sqrlsy. Why do you hate free speech and First Amendment rights?

          2. Also, your link is from June 2020. Before any of this even happened. What's next? Quoting articles from the 90's?

            1. Liberals sometimes ban conservaturds. Conservaturds sometimes ban liberals. Such is life! Getting Government Almighty to try and "fix" this is a Marxist-idiot type of thing to try to do!

              (FacePoooo is more popular than Parler. "Truth Social" is a total flop! The consumers have Spoken! Go fuck off, crybaby! Or make Your Own Perfect App here; the consumers are waiting! What's stopping You, Perfect One, other than Your Perfect Whining?)

  2. "It's the reason why Reason can't be sued for libelous or defamatory content posted in our comments section" narrows eyes "(though the authors of such comments can be)."

    1. Butt... Butt WHO has the Ever-Sacred Deep Pockets, us peon commenters, or the greedy capitalist owners of web sites?

      THIS is the ONLY question that needs to be asked, to explain such things!

      (Ain't gettin' blood out of THIS particular rock HERE!)

      1. "greedy capitalist owners of web sites"

        Google and Facebook were started and funded by the CIA, specifically In-Q-Tel, sustained and grown by government regulation, and backed up by Blackrock. How are they "capitalist"?

        Even your Lightbringer disagrees, Sqrlsy.

        Obama: ‘Google, Facebook Would Not Exist’ Without Government Funding https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/obama-google-facebook-would-not-exist-without-government-funding

        1. Hey MammaryFuhrer... I claim credit for You recently wiping Your Own Perfect Ass, 'cause I ALLOWED AND ENABLED You to do so, by mumbling some encouraging words, and NOT taxing and regulating You to death!

          Politicians and other gory glory seekers do this kind of shit ALL of the time! Does that mean YOU should favor giving them MORE power? WHERE is your BRAIN, Wonder Child?

  3. And in other news; A new NATIONAL grant that will fund entirely Nazi-Journalists... Ya know; JUST LIKE RUSSIA and other Communist Nations do.

    Cronyism is a corrupt practice where an individual in a position of power and influence abuses their authority to dispense favors to their friends and allies.

    Isn't it humorous how Democrats talk all this smack about 'cronyism' while not realizing they themselves are the biggest lobbyists for cronyism.

    "[We] need to steal (by Gov-Guns) from the people and subsidize our Nazi+ propaganda outlets..", but d*mn that business cronyism...

    It's like a kid getting caught at the very moment his hand is in the cookie jar and hysterically blaming his/her sibling for exact what the kid herself/himself is doing right now in front of everyone to see.

    Course; they've been doing that all along. ONLY a Black Female should be the Supreme Court Nominee .... "[We] are Anti-Racist and Anti-Sexist" ............... Omg..... Denial-ism and Projection at it's finest.

  4. Orthography note on "MarxistMammaryBahnFuhrer":

    BAHN (train, railroad) =/= BANN

    If you bring up NAZI history, at least mind the spelling.
    More ranks here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler_Youth

    I wrote more, but the offering got sent into comment-space limbo, presumably because the German umlauts require "moderation".

    1. "Bann" translate German to English yields "spell", as if the NAZIs were merely harmless spelling-bee leaders! Ha! Don't fall for their deceptive bullshit, as they "railroad" us all into their lies and their death camps! MarxistMammaryBahnFuhrer one wrote that the NAZIs were NOT into leading their victims to death via railroads, which is a TOTAL fib! See the EXTREMELY well documented book, "Ordinary Men", about THAT! https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B01G1F0F84/reasonmagazinea-20/

      MarxistMammaryBahnFuhrer is NOT just a harmless spelling-bee leader; She lusts after railroading us just like the NAZIs did, into lies-lies-lies, and worse!

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