Free speech and secret ballots

I have culled this comment from one of Professor Bunyip’s threads. It is from one our regular threadsters Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

Anonymous comments are similar to the Secret Ballot in elections. They allow truly free speech, untramelled by the constraints of employment, family and acting your age. It’s what we really think, made public. That’s why elections are sometimes such a shock to politicians who believe they have all bases covered.

Very good. A somewhat controversial view that I hadn’t previously considered.

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43 Responses to Free speech and secret ballots

  1. daddy dave

    Well put.

    The flip side is that, legally, anonymity is not a right. Abuse it and you lose it.

  2. Gab

    “anonymity is not a right. Abuse it and you lose it.”

    Very soon however it will be “lose it”, by government decree.

    It’s already starting with blogs and online publications in the advertising industry sector. The Communications Council is pushing for an end to anonymous commenters by “asking” publishers to record IP addresses and/or creating a registration system.

    And lets not forget the Media Inquiry and Prof. Disney, who earlier complained (dissenting) discussion on the internet was damaging democracy.

    No doubt anonymous comments will soon become a thing of the past; as will any criticism of the current Rainbow Government in public fora, driven by Stalin’s finest: Milne and Brown.

  3. val majkus

    Sadly I think you’re right Gab

  4. Woolfe

    You can still hide your ip through a proxy, and i am sure that this service will keep ahead of govmint regs.

  5. 90 mile Red Kelpie

    I couldn’t agree more. The anonymity of the internet is highly desirable, in that we can express views, which today could have undesirable consequences at work, family & others.
    As Gab says, The Communications Council would like to be the next Big Brother watching over us.
    That we don’t need!

  6. Jasbo

    I can see that anonymity is important – in my position I need it otherwise I wouldn’t comment at all – but the honourable man in me still feels odd that I’m not standing behind my opinions publicly.

    Anonymity also allows for instant, ill-considered posting with no consequences for reputation. I’m not sure that lack of accountability is good. No matter how intelligent or well-informed we are, public accountability drives reflection and humility. Even (or especially) our brainiacs need that.

  7. Lazlo

    Agree daddy dave, but we need to be clear on the circumstances whereby anonymity may be lost.

    Surely it should be limited at most to law enforcement agencies investigating criminal behaviour, or the orders of a court. This would mean that bad laws or judgements could still getcha (eg Bolt) but that is another problem. However this would be better than the politically motivated, non-judicial bodies that are the preferred solution for the totalitarian green/left.

  8. Abu Chowdah

    Not to diminish the value of Lizzie’s observation or Sinc’s revelation but: duh. That is the whole point of my screen name and why I consistently lie about what I do for a living.

  9. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Anonymity is a major protection against spiteful or damaging actions from those who disagree with you and who are in a position to hurt you. That’s why it is important for free speech. It is a freedom as essential as that of the Ballot Box. Hecklers in the old-style political meetings didn’t shout out who they were either and weren’t always known.

    Personnas created online can have existence as just that, totally created lives; or they can reflect very real individuals.

    For the record, Lizzie Online is not fundamentally dissimilar to Lizzie Offline, with a few tweaks here and there to maintain the cover and allow the joi de vivre and je ne sais quoi that is part of my mental apparatus and inner life to enter into the digital discourse. The cover gives me freedom. I think better undercover. I tell myself it must be the writer in me (there’s one lurking somewhere within I’ve always felt and bloggs are an ideal test-bed as well as an ideal procrastination). Commenting on blogs is also a journey of self-discovery. I surprise my self sometimes with my own opinions.

    I think it important to protect my screen reputation quite jealously. I agree with Daddy Dave and Lazlo that a screen presence carries a responsibility, moral as well as legal. In that sense, I realise I am fully accountable for myself online as much as I am offline, in fact more so. I don’t think people should chop and change with their screen personnas either, although Bird is fun when he does it (because we know it is him). I have a particular view of you all here on the Cat, and that’s the way I like it. Over time, the little self-disclosures are a tease too, both ways, yours and mine. But no-one is getting the ongoing story of my life and I don’t seek yours. My online personna is about argumentation, and this on the Cat is always intellectually interesting.

    I could not do this, here on the Cat or elsewhere, without anonymity. Without anonymity, I would be too embarrassed to be seen as so opinionated (you don’t know what my sister is like to me), too exposed to censure and payback from some who are still in a position to hurt me (I know and have worked with a lot of lefties and have insider knowledge of their ways and lefties btw are not the only nasty people around), and too worried about bringing unnecessary hurt and confusion about me to others (even some nicer lefties, some of whom are family).

    The things I say politically are things that I believe should be out there in the public arena, not hidden among trusted friends and often implied but not spoken of elsewhere. So my online personna is the extension of my trusted fiendships. The culture of political correctness is one of oppression; basically Gulag territory. Anonymity on the internet (and on talk-back radio btw for some but not for me) is essential to a healthy political culture.

    Have no doubt that those against freedom will try to stop anonymity. Our saving grace is that they will be soon hoist on their own petard if they do.

  10. fill the cup

    It’s hard to see how anonymity online could ever be curtailed let alone abolished outright.

    What would be the mechanisms of that? And how could they be foolproof? Or universal?

    Besides, if people want anonymity enough, and I believe we the people do, then the market will provide it, no? Or at least the means to it.

    People do want anonymity, very much. Because our thoughts and feelings are private and mostly not ever verbally expressed, by choice, even if we were existentially or technically capable of doing so.

  11. David Palmer

    I don’t really agree with the anonymity. It allows people to say harsh, judgmental, unkind things which is much less likely to occur if a person uses their name.

    If you have something to say then I believe you should be prepared to identify yourself – that way integrity of opinions expressed is served and trust can be established.

    (I note people are generally respectful on Catallaxy, but other sites that deal with hot topics, say, religion, atheism, same sex marriage can become very nasty very quickly with people hiding behind pseudonyms).

    I recognise one problem using your own name is that someone may wish to track you down – possibly for bad reasons. Therefore no email address and no address seems a reasonable compromise.

    Anonymity is required at the ballot box because of the asymmetry involved in the relative power of coercion between the State and the individual.

  12. JC

    Well you’d be fucked, wouldn’t you Urine, Phil. I mean posting criminally slanderous disgusting filth at Bird’s site about people’s families etc. Where would you go after all.

    An no the market would not be able to provide a foolproof system as government could simply legislate illegality.

  13. Sinclair Davidson

    Abu – I’m well aware why people use pseudonyms but the comparison with the secret ballot is new.

  14. fill the cup

    It’s true that anonymity encourages some people’s worst, most paranoid selves to freely expectorate.

    JC is the obvious case in point. As his weirdo post above clearly demonstrates.

    I asked last night about hiding text on recoverable email or sms messages. I could (but chose not to) have a work-provided Iphone and IPad. And the IT dept lads and lassies are not contactable right now to find out how this is done on a network system which still records the email exchange as having occurred, though with limited information.

    But it appears that the need to hide text and even email addresses has been accommodated in the latest technology, probably by the simple use of passwords combined with the blind copy option in addresses.

  15. Sinclair Davidson

    The latest infestations of Bird and Phil have been cleared out.

  16. JC

    Phil, Urine,

    You not only define weird, you also define the worst of the worst elements about the web and why people with obvious mental disturbances should not be allowed to have a web connection let alone help treat patients.

    Now go back to Bird’s bog and pretend you’re married to me…. and keep dreaming.

    Now keep reminding us you’re as smart as the doctors you serve. Lol

  17. val majkus

    I’m not a fan of anonynimity
    My view is if you’re not prepared to use your name then you’re not prepared to defend your convictions
    But I note that’s not the majority view

  18. JC


    Why is it important who says something as against what they say. Why do you really care if a comment is basically on topic even if hard hitting.

    In any event there are remedies for libel and slander as Flower-in-her-hair Hardy recently found out.

  19. val majkus

    JC not sure what you’re getting at but my view is that
    if you have a conviction or opinion then why hide behind a nom de plume
    I’ve ploughed through what Elizabeth says above but in my view a nom de plume simply diminishes your opinion (but that’s just my view) and I can see above how many words can be used to defend anonimity

  20. sdfc


    I can’t be sure of the stability of everyone on the net so I don’t post my real name. I don’t see why it is a problem.

  21. Gab

    The secret ballot may not stay so secret in future. I’m thinking online votes cast for elections. Let’s face it that’s the way we’re heading and you cannot convince me that online votes will be tamper-proof.

  22. val majkus

    But in my view the word in favour of non anominity is ‘courage’

  23. jumpnmcar

    Personally, I don’t know enough about the web or identity theft to put my real name up. I plead ignorance as defence.But I do feel a tiny tinge of guilt when the subject is raised in the company of ” real namers” but otherwise, fuck that, it’s about security.

  24. JC


    Go and see what Bird and Trannie Phil say about people using their real names etc at Bird’s blog.

    Phil has even pretended he was my wife.

    Go take a look at the slanderous stuff those two post about people and see if you think the word courage should be used.

  25. val majkus

    Yep JC
    would be easier if you posted links but disregarding that each of us has different views as to what courage consists of
    and what you say doesn’t deter me, sorry

  26. jumpnmcar

    Ohh, and if my voting preference being known won’t cost me my small pile of meagre saving+my borrowing potential amount, publish it in the local rag, i don’t care.

    But you can guess if you want , it’s not difficult.

  27. val majkus

    and that’s all I’m saying on the subject, I’ve had my say and used my real name
    and that is in my view standing by my convictions
    So all from me in this post

  28. JC

    Posting links? To Bird’s blog? Are you kidding me? Google, find it and then rifle through the filth.

    Not trying to convince you, Val. I just think your explanation is bullshit.

    The Light Horseman may have been courageous going into the valley of death, but they were also freaking suicidal, which is just stupid.

  29. Nato

    I don’t think that the ballot box is an adequate simile

    “Anonymity is required at the ballot box because of the asymmetry involved in the relative power of coercion between the State and the individual”

    I see anonymous web comments more as a trial separation from sociophilia. After all

    “I can’t be sure of the stability of everyone on the net so I don’t post my real name.”

  30. val majkus

    JC rather than each member of the Light Horsemen I’m thinking of these influentials:
    Václav Havel


    Milovan ?ilas

    there are many others but each of the above were prominent dissidents in their country of birth each using their real name and thus adding to the credibility of their opinion

    That’s all from me on this post

  31. sdfc

    Commenting on a blog does not make you a dissident.

  32. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Sinclair, there would be even more surprises in a secret ballot outcome if there were no anonymous comments available to show the way people were actually thinking. Polls are a poor second best to blogs for this purpose. Blogs also allow a wider discussion of issues as well as an open one. And many people are just plain shy unless anonymous.

    David Palmer, people employed by the State and making comments would be readily aware of the “asymetrical power of coercion” owned by the State. Coercive power is not just about police forces etc. People are enmeshed in a variety of complex power relationships in their lives, and these relationships influence their desire for anonymity in their political opinions. With anonymity such people are permitted the privilege of political expression extra to the Ballot Box.

  33. Jarrah

    “you cannot convince me that online votes will be tamper-proof.”

    Paper ballots are not tamper-proof either, but e-voting does present enormous problems. We only have to look at the scandals around the 2000 and 2004 elections in the US to see that.

  34. Lazlo

    “in my view a nom de plume simply diminishes your opinion” if that’s what it does for you then that’s absolutely fine val – it’s a free country

  35. Winston Smith

    Perhaps Jarrah, a more honest person would have put in the latest election results where people were interviewed as having been through several times to vote Democrat, and the media interviewees thought nothing of it?

  36. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Yes, agree Lazlo. So now Val, in elegiac mode, homeward goes the ploughman to plod his (her?) weary way? Sorry to tire you out.

  37. JamesK

    Very good Bunyip comment Lizzie.

    It removes the constraints of ego and superego.

    Ther alpha (temporary) and omega (permanent) mindset of freedom.

  38. kae

    After having a letter published in the Aus I received mail from strangers, not nice mail. All that was published was my initial and my surname. That was enough for me to be found.

    That’s one reason for using a nom de blog.

    Another is my employer. It may be frowned upon if I didn’t toe the “company” line.

  39. Helen Armstrong

    Winston, is that your real name or did you survive 1984 after all?

    I confess it was people like Val and others who gave me the courage to use my real name. I have posted on other blogs under an alias but I find it encourages me to be a bit impulsive and reactive rather than think before I speak…. But I understand why others might not feel in a position to ‘out’ their real identities.

    Happy New Year all.

  40. TerjeP

    I basically use my real name. However I don’t much care what people use as their online ID so long as they don’t chop and change all the time. Chopping and changing means that the online version of a person is not even accountable for their previous online version. It’s like living with a shape shifter.

  41. Jarrah

    “where people were interviewed as having been through several times to vote Democrat, and the media interviewees thought nothing of it?”

    Didn’t know about it. Link?

  42. Winston Smith

    Link here Jarrah.
    I’m assuming you genuinely didn’t know about the inconsistencies of the election, and the voter intimidation at polling booths.

  43. Abu Chowdah

    “Another is my employer. It may be frowned upon if I didn’t toe the “company” line.”


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