Monday, October 05, 2009

From NH Watchdog blog:

[found here]

Freedom of Speech in the Internet Age- Part II

Over at Blue Hampshire, JimC is upset at the radio host Howie Carr is trying to find out the identity of an anonymous critic, and has offered a $2,000 reward.

Like I said on BMG, this is a classless move, and I think it's a freedom of the press issue.

Some background: the state GOP sued over the Senate appointment law. A judge quickly ruled against them, and Howie Carr (recently described by Dan Kennedy as the Bill O'Reilly of Boston media) wrote a column attacking the judge.

"Ernie Boch III" wrote a blog post calling for a boycott of Carr's advertisers. (It was atypical of him; EBIII is usually snarky.) Yesterday morning, the lead story in the Herald was Carr's column attacking EBIII for "posing" as someone else. And yesterday afternoon, on Carr's radio show, Boch offered the reward.

The pose rhetoric is an absurd charge. There is no Ernie Boch III to pose as; it is a joke as recognizable as the Sons of Sam Horn, a Red Sox blog.

I suspect that Howie Carr and Ernie Boch Jr. think this is all a big joke, but $2,000 is enough to draw a crazy person, and this is sponsored press harassment.
JimC and I had a little colloquy about anonymity and the Internet back in August, but that case involved a court order in a possible defamation case.

There is no First Amendment issue here, because there is no government involvement. Whether this case is an attack of press freedom apart from the First Amendment is a separate question, but I still don't think it rises to a threat on journalism.

Ernie Boch III has every right to withhold his identity. However, he can't force others to not care who he is, or take steps to find out. JimC seems to think that the act of criticism itself shields the anonymous blogger from counter-criticism, or from his targets wanting to know more about who's attacking them.

I've never seen any real distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I'm happy to give Ernie Boch III the same rights as the New York Times. Okay, bad example. Make that the same rights as a trusted journalist. Discovering the identity of anonymous bloggers may be considered bad form in the blogosphere, but it's certainly not a threat to free speech. They have a right to shout from behind the curtain, and I have a right to peak behind the curtain. Why should my rights yield to the anonymous blogger? Privacy? Certainly not. You can't walk through a public park and then forbid everyone else from looking at you.

I respect the right of people to withhold their identity when they post their opinions online. But I discount what they say somewhat because of it. If I don't know where they are coming from, and what biases and allegiances they bring to the table, I trust them less. I've chosen to put my name under all of my online activities, whether it be here, at Red Hampshire, Facebook, or rarely in the comment threads of other blogs. My history and biases are there for Google and all the world to see, and I think it makes my words more credible. But that's my choice.

The source of the $2,000 reward is the anonymous blogger's use of another man's name. Ernie Boch Jr. doesn't like that someone is his name to push ideas he disagrees with. He's got every right to be upset. It's a slimy thing to do, but certainly not illegal. If Boch or Carr were going to court to make the blogger's identity public or make him change his nom-de-blog, I'd side with JimC on this.

Ironically, this issue started when Ernie Boch III called for a boycott of Carr's advertisers because he doesn't like what Carr is saying. By JimC's logic, this is a greater threat to press freedom than Carr's $2,000 reward. Of course, it's not. As always, the cure for bad speech is more speech.

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