Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Question of Anonymity

In Professor Martin Hall's weekly blog, which is always a fascinating read, he asserts that "[a]s a university, we have our own share of cyber-bullies and harassers. They are invariably disaffected individuals with personal grievances who hide behind anonymous blogs and e-mail pseudonyms. As Vice Chancellor Hall has opened a debate and invited commentary, and not wishing to be cast as a dreadful "cyber-bully" or serial "cyber-harasser" it would be remiss not to draw readers attention to a little snippet found on Erin Baldwin's campaigning website. It concerns a comment posted on her website by a chap called Mr Ethical Blogger centring on the provision of Personally Identifying Information such as IP addresses and email addresses to the University of Salford. Provided voluntarily I might add for the sake of clarity, by the CEO of Automattic Inc/Wordpress a Mr Toni Schneider.

Ethical Blogger  * 

Has anyone perchance seen
a loose cobbler
knocking around?
“I don’t know any of the details of the case set out here or the ratcatchers blog (strange name), but I strongly believe that bloggers should act ethically and within the law. Is it possible that WordPress acted ethically, concluding that the material published by Dr. Gary Paul Duke on the strangely named blog, contravened their own guidelines for ethical blogging – and was so evidently defamatory (as apparently determined by the British authorities) – that it would inevitably lead to an order for release of the US courts. They released it therefore in accordance with their own principles of publication - saving themselves further administrative and legal costs in the process?”

Erin Baldwin writes:

"I think it’s interesting how the person writing this comment states at the beginning:
“I don’t know any of the details of the case …” then pontificates very astutely about
the major issues of controversy:

(1) that WordPress ethics have been called into question;
(2) that Dr. Gary Paul Duke allegedly published “defamatory” material;
(3) that WordPress claims that the “defamatory” material was against its guidelines;
(4) that British courts deemed the content “defamatory”;
(5) that United States courts concur (since the trend in the states is to terminate as many blogs as possible that express an opinion contrary to the status quo and/or arrest owners of blogs to at least take the heat off for a while); and…. finally and most importantly to Toni Schneider and Matt Mullenweg:
(6) that the US courts would issue a court order to save WordPress legal and administrative fees because they are actually doing them a favor by being the hatchet men for the government. 
I think the writer of this comment knows quite a bit about this case, don’t you? Like maybe he or she is intimately involved in the litigation?"

Oh dear... how sad... never mind

In light of Professor Hall's obvious antipathy to anonymous commentary via cyber-land, I shall of course reserve my own judgement. You however, can draw your own conclusions. If any readers would like to undertake a little bit of their own investigative work, click here and then click here. The results prove very interesting.

Post Script: The author of this blog would like to stress that he has no problem with the issue of anonymous or pseudonymically centred blogging. Indeed anonymous political leafleting and pamphleteering have played an important historical role in creating an a political dissidence and ideological alternative in periods of ruling class hegemony. However, the University of Salford have made it clear via letters to this writer from their rather over-enthusiastic lawyers (who were incidentally Halliwells at the time until they went bust last year) that they believe this type of blogging to be 'cowardly', a view that cuts against the grain of the opinion of Mr Justice Thomas who in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 514 U.S. 334 (1995) recognises the 'value' in upholding the right to publish anonymously within the First Amendment of the US Constitution. 

I would also like to say that I would not condone for one minute the UoS seeking to discipline the above anonymous post-er to Ms Baldwin's blog despite the obvious misuse of UoS IT facilities.

* I have removed this IP address but this particular IP Address is already in the public domain courtesy of Erin Baldwin at http://erinbaldwin.com/2011/01/12/university-of-salford-busted-for-anonymous-post/ 

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