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Faustian Bargain
To End Foreign Meddling, End Anonymity

Democratic sovereignty, free speech, perfect anonymity: pick two.

Published on: December 7, 2017
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  • AnonymoussSoldier

    I could talk about this for hours and possibly days, but in brief I’ll just say a few lines. Hard truth is that any attempt to quash free speech and/or anonymity destroys the essence of democracy anyway, and indeed you have to look at a country like China for your best example. They do have censorship and online anonymity is more difficult, although not impossible. But at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, it has to be backed up by state force. That means people get arrested or disappear, and in China they do. Is that going to happen in America? No. Americans don’t even have common sense gun laws and start sliding towards civil chaos at the thought of it.

    • TPAJAX

      Just sad that we need to rely on the Russians to expose Clinton corruption and her public and private positions. That assumes it was the Russians, I haven’t seen any evidence to demonstrate that, but for sake of argument I’ll just accept it. Really sad stuff.

    • AbleArcher

      You’re not anonymous on the Internet unless you take specific steps to be anonymous. Its proven by the Multi billion/year ad industry that most do not take any such steps. The average user does not clear their history or delete tracking cookies. they use their real IP address, and they actually use their real email or phone to receive text to verify a new account. They are completely exposed whenever the service in question is hacked, or if a subpoena or warrant requires that the service divulge the info.

      So is that what you’re going to do? Somebody says something you don’t like then you have the company subpoenaed get the IP, get the ISP to tell you who it is, and send them a fine? Go arrest them? Sounds like Russia or China. So you have to become the thing you hate to hurt the thing you hate?

      • AnonymoussSoldier

        I don’t know why you’re saying this to me. I already know all that, or you just trying to piggyback on the thread? But as far as anonymity goes, of course the technology is tending towards favoring anonymity, and it’s becoming easier and more accessible for those who want it. from getting past pay walls and trolling to those who really fear for their life for leaks. Of course were all talking about the clearnet here. Free speech, anti-censorship alternatives already exist for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, you name it.

        If something was to happen to those alternative sites so that there are no alternatives on the clearnet, well then you just push people into the darknet. I inhabit both realms of the internet, and I found huge amounts of expertise and information on darknet sites, including extremely accurate election predictions last fall. The kicker is, I’ve been traveling far and wide, and deep, on the web for 20 years now. The population on unindexed sites has exploded, but only in the last couple of years really, despite the accessibility of such sites and forums becoming much easier over a decade ago.

        • CheckYourself

          Indeed. Web anonymity has never been easier, or as full proof. It’s the same reason why the Liar Dems and Never Trump “Republicans” can’t produce any real evidence of Russian hacking.

  • Gary Hemminger

    I completely agree with the premise here. Anonymity is the problem and this is the whole point of the internet. this is why security is a problem on the net. You can attack a server or a PC with impunity. Imagine if you could attempt hundreds of times to break into house without anyone noticing. It is all just stupid.

  • FriendlyGoat

    What you need is a way for citizens to sue corporations for the damage done to society from fakery disseminated by corporations. What you might get is corporations doing any darn thing they want, with citizens chased from pillar to post. Facebook screwed up, bigtime. Who is going to pay? Almost certainly not any incorporated entity.

    • Tom

      That sounds like the sort of thing that could come back to bite your boys big time. How much would NBC have lost on that edited transcript of George Zimmerman’s phone call?

      • Jim__L

        Rolling Stone would be completely out of business, its editors and writers in prison.

  • Jim__L

    The Russians are the least of our worries if “fake news” (most of which comes from domestic sources, frequently trusted by the Democrats) is something that people can’t sift through themselves.

    NPR honestly doesn’t do its homework very carefully. At the launch of one of my startups, we had our eyes glued to the news feeds. Fox News ran a piece with about 12 facts about our company, all but one of which were correct. (This was well above average, by the way.) NPR ran a piece with about 4 facts about our company, all but one of which were WRONG.

    All news should be taken with a grain of salt. THAT is what we need to teach people; it will be enough.

    • D4x

      Add the Associated Press to the creative rumor-mongering list, which is really scary because so many news publishers rely on AP. I started seeing their deliberate misquotes when it was AP who quoted Turkey’s foreign minister saying President Trump said something about stopping US weapons to YPG (Syrian Kurds). Others ran with that headline (NPR did not). Took three days, and two convoys of Humvees, before Turkey’s FM had to change his line to outrage at being ‘misled’. Meanwhile, a lot (some) Americans thought Trump had betrayed the YPG, who are the real boots on the ground against ISIS in Syria. AP did that deliberately – they got brazen on video at the State Dep’t Press Briefing on Nov. 28, testig new talking points.

      I read primary sources, but seems even ‘journalists’ do not do that anymore.

      As for other nations messing with Americans? From Hudson Institute & Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith, who was the first to unmask Fusion GPS:

      “[…]What’s unfolding here is an information campaign designed to protect the pro-Iran policies of the Obama administration. […] What worries Obama operatives aren’t the details they are busy spinning, but the big picture: Trump is leaning toward traditional American allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and may be inclined to pull out of
      the nuclear deal—which is the support structure for realigning the United States with Iran. If Trump pulls the plug, then Obama’s “legacy” in the Middle East collapses. That’s why all of the former president’s foreign-policy hands are on deck.[…] The information campaign’s essential takeaway was that Obama was right to go with Tehran over Riyadh. And now that fool Trump is going to blow it apart! […] [read the entire unmasking:]
      “The Beirut Echo Chamber News of the News: How Lebanon came to host an information campaign designed to protect the pro-Iran policies of the Obama administration from the pro-Saudi policies of the Trump administration
      By Lee Smith|November 29, 2017 9:30 PM

      Posting here, because Andrew Bernard’s new post on KSA and Yemen made me think he is part of that Pro-Iran Echo Chamber.

      Sorry Damir, you lost me at “Even if the Russians failed in their task, the concerns being voiced are real,” I am reading Massie’s “Peter the Great” – just got to to 1689, when the Crimean Tatars were raiding what is now Ukraine, to cart off whole villages of Russians into slavery. The joke in Europe was whether there were any Russians left in Russia – so many galley slaves. History never ends in the Old World. Just wanted to post about the AP’s betrayal of trust.

  • Fat_Man

    I am still more worried about the NYTimes, Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, and NBC than I am about the Russians. Hillary lost because she was well known to the voters, so well known that millions of people voted for the clown, and they knew he is a clown, they just hated her more. Restoring the communications monopoly to the New York Washington Media blob is not the answer to anything resembling a real problem. If you liberals want to win elections, why don’t start by talking to the American people instead of writing them off as moronic racists.

  • Psalms13626

    Oh please. Spare me the moral panic. We should give up our privacy rights because Russia sent out a picture of Jesus hand wrestling Hillary?
    Also, this article has a logical fallacy as it assumes we expect or want perfect anonymity. We want law enforcement to be able to track bad guys. But we do expect that the government won’t know about every post on the Internet we make.

  • John

    Good luck with that, Damir. Do you know who this is? That’s right. Your friendly Chinaman who you’ve blocked and whose comments you delete. You can’t even make censorship work. What a laugh. Go ahead and delete this asap. See you tomorrow:)

    • Jim__L

      Welcome back! Half the fun of diplomacy is parsing whether the opposition’s public statements are intended to have the obvious effect, a reverse-psychological effect based on someone seeing through the obvious effect, or (and this is most confusing of all) are just plain true. 🙂

      “Always tell the truth. It will gratify some, and astonish the rest.”
      – Mark Twain

    • AbleArcher

      Hahaha. Now this is a funny post. You two have beef? Lol.

  • QET

    The reason this idea is so absurd is that, to my knowledge, no one has come forward and said that he was ready to vote for Hillary until he read that story from RT posted on Facebook, or some such, which caused him to switch his vote to Trump.

    with embittered Clinton supporters in particular convincing themselves that Russian attempts at information warfare on social media successfully changed voters’ minds,

    Yes, you see these supporters are not claiming that “Russian fake news” changed their minds. No, it is always somebody else’s mind that was changed. This is not a matter, as Marusic says, of “proving a negative.” It is a matter for psychoanalysis, of coming to understand the psychic effects on entitled progressives of the thwarting of their wills. It’s of the same nature as football fans who insist that if only the refs had called that holding penalty, or not called that pass interference penalty, their team would have won. Deeply disappointed people are able to convince themselves of anything–Russian collusion, Emoluments Clause violations, Russian fake news.

  • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

    I work in Manhattan in an extremely left-wing industry. I cannot afford to espouse my opinions under my own name; in that, I’m rather like Publius (though I don’t have to fear for my life, just my livelihood).

    Very few of who do not rigorously adhere to left-wing dogma are free to voice their opinions. No one on the left has this problem, of course — unless they’re engaged in rioting, looting, etc., as so many of them are — so folks like Marusic are unlikely to have much sympathy for anonymity. Which is odd, since he was born in Yugoslavia. I guess he has completely overcome his Communist upbringing ….

    • I don’t know if that’s fair. I have sympathy. But I do think we are facing all sorts of thorny questions here that perhaps don’t have satisfying answers. Maybe technological change means that classical liberal democracy is impossible. Maybe we need to come to terms with the idea that there is nothing illegitimate about foreign influence at all, because anonymity is the new normal and shouldn’t be messed with. None of this feels satisfying to me, but the essay was as much as anything me trying to come to terms with the implications of where this debate is taking us.

      • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

        I have no problems with foreign influence; I have yet to see any evidence that anyone in the US changed his vote due to the hundreds and hundreds of dollars Russia spent suborning our election. And, as I’ve said elsewhere, if Putin knows America so well that he can spend a pittance to create a result nearly every American political scientist said was impossible, then we have far, far bigger problems than any one election.

        More importantly, the world needs more anonymity if information is going to get through the Great Firewall of China or into North Korea or Russia.

        Would you really force a North Korean who criticizes his government to use his real name?

        • I don’t believe in some teleological sense of progress, nor do I believe that I should weigh equally the fates of all people on this planet. North Korea is a deplorable, barbarous place—and I know, as I lived there with my parents for three years when I was a child. But if it were clear that limiting absolute anonymity would make our own societies stronger and healthier at the cost of what some describe as “progress” elsewhere, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to advocate for it.

          That said, I don’t think I’ve necessarily convinced myself that this tradeoff is necessary. As I’ve written elsewhere in these comments, I’ve ended the piece unsatisfied.

  • Anthony

    “…using anonymity as a shield from social censure. Civility is in large part a product of concern for one’s reputation. If one can free oneself from the threat of all consequences, all sorts of shameful acts become conceivable, including harassment….” (Damir Marusic)

    An excellent essay for theoretical argumentation – anonymous internet and its potential to compromise tenets of Liberal Democracy. But, the metaphorical horse has left the barn. So, a question pertains: as formal democracy requires both an active and engaged citizenry, how can Western Liberal Democracy enable “responsible citizens” in era of cyber communication? Similarly, essay implies that sovereigns by virtue of an unnamed authority are bound to preserve a form of order on cyber-space globally while not threatening individual liberty; that task is neither self-evident nor tension free – the essay engages logical argument.

  • dratman

    Absolutely right. I’ve come to the same conclusion. We must remember that anonymity was never included in the promise of free speech. The need for identification in the real, everyday world depends on the situation. On the internet we find every possible situation and more. Anonymity on the internet has become an intolerable pressure toward chaos.

    People will be angry, but anonymity has to go. Thanks for writing about this.

    • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

      That will only be possible when people can express unpopular opinions without losing their jobs.

      But I suspect that those who argue against anonymity, like you and Marusic, are doing so precisely so that it will be easier to punish those guilty of crimethink.

      • dratman

        Why in the world would you think I want to “punish those guilty of crimethink”? That is not me at all. No, I just want to make it harder to lie and deceive and harass and threaten people over the internet, with no consequences. Remember that in the days before the internet existed, anonymous communication was an unusual occurrence. Anonymous phone calls were not listened to. Anonymous letters usually meant something was wrong, maybe someone was blackmailing you. Anonymous pamphlets are easy to ignore.

        Compare that traditional arrangement with the present situation, in which a lot of our communication is anonymous. People can cruelly insult and frighten each other without any chance of being identified. False rumors are ridiculously easy for anyone to start. It is just not a good situation.

        • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

          So you _would_ force a North Korean who criticizes his government to use his real name.

          Good to know.

          • dratman

            Someone who lives in North Korea and uses the internet to anonymously criticize her government would find herself in a prison camp within days, don’t you think? Supposed anonymity is useless if spies and informers are looking over your shoulder everywhere you go.

  • John Smith

    You should be concerned about big media which systematically promotes their own agenda. They also control commenting platforms, and when people stray too far from their agenda, they ban them. Business interests are clearly using censorship to promote their political agenda and to make their agenda look more prevalent that it actually is.

  • Angel Martin

    No more secret ballot either, I guess.

    “Which of you scabs don’t want to go on strike?”

    • Not sure how that follows. (That said, I am sympathetic to some tightening of voter ID laws…)

      • Angel Martin

        “Responsibility entails owning your speech,…”

        Doesn’t “responsibility” extend to owning your own vote ?

        Isn’t the logical end point to prohibiting anonymous “hate” speech lead to ending the secret ballot so people cannot anonymously vote for “hateful” candidates ?

        • Not at all. I see all these things as exercises in finding the appropriate balance, not blindly taking things to their so-called logical conclusions.

          • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

            Responsibility, like faith, hope, charity, and other virtues, is an aspiration and not something that can be rigorously enforced in every aspect of life by any but the most totalitarian of states — and I mean that in Mussolini’s sense: “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato.”

  • Exactly how would a tech company defeat anonymity? Do you have to show up at some Facebook equivalent of the DMV with your birth certificate or two valid government IDs? Do you go into a central registry where you have One Account to Rule Them All? How do you keep somebody from fronting for an account to be used by somebody else? The whole idea is silly.

    What they can do is authenticate that the user of an account at least has the credentials under which the account was created, and then assign a reputation to the account. If somebody posts responsibly and consistently, they’ll have a good reputation. If they’re a sock puppet from a Russian troll farm, their posting will be inconsistent and their reputation will be lousy.

    Tools for managing a reputation and filtering content based on reputation don’t seem like a particularly onerous ask of internet content companies, nor do they wade into the constitutional swamp described above. Whether anybody will use them or not… until pretty recently I was convinced that people were smart enough to look after their own interests. Now, I’m not so sure–but I’d love to be proven wrong.

    • JeanneDee

      I once worked on a reputation-management system for (what was planned to be) a fairly large community website. The client ultimately rejected the idea because “it would imply that some users are better than others, and made people feel bad”.

      • Tell me that you were at least able to push a button to commit microaggressions!

        • JeanneDee

          It was actually before microaggressions were “a thing”, as the young people say these days.

      • ConservativeMutant

        Mr. Castaigne feels that your time would be more profitably spent on a system for the restoration of reputations.

        • JeanneDee

          … Went right over my head, I’m afraid.

          • ConservativeMutant


            Responsible for the transmission of Hastur/The King in Yellow into the Cthulhu Mythos.

          • JeanneDee


            With reputation management and stable anonymous identities, I note, “repairing” a reputation is easy: you just abandon the old identity and take a new one, and get a clean record.

            But if you don’t mend your ways, the new one soon becomes just as trashed as the old one. And if too many people do this, too many people ignore new identities without an established reputation (which does cause its own problems for bona fide newbies, but then that happens anyway in established communities of discourse).

  • Douglas Levene

    I’m all for less anonymity on the internet. I understand why people want to be anonymous. The risk that some online shame mob will hound you out of your job is not trivial – and is, indeed, far greater (at least in the US) than the risk of the government taking some action against you. Still, anonymity encourages personal attacks and makes reasoned debate less likely so I think it’s better if people post under their real names. I’m not so worried about foreign trolls hiding behind anonymous accounts, they are usually obvious. And the problem is to some extent self-correcting – anonymous accounts inherently have less credibility and weight. So I don’t favor government rules prohibiting anonymous accounts, but I would not be unhappy were Twitter or Disqus to require real names.

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