The Many Masks of Anon: Anonymity as Cultural Practice and Reflections in Case Law
36 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2013
Date Written: September 9, 2013
Relying on an interdisciplinary analysis of the literature in communication, history, literature studies, and political science, this article argues that anonymity in discourse is a string of complementary and sometimes conflicting cultural practices that case law has only begun to unpack, particularly in online contexts. While anonymous speech appears as one construct in law, it actually represents a whole host of practices informed by different motivations and different experiences in discourse. Part One operationalizes how communication scholars and others define anonymous speech and its consequences and serves as a basis for thinking about the role of anonymous speech in law. Parts Two and Three use the interdisciplinary literature to address the origins and longstanding traditions of anonymous speech to identify the "beneficial" and "harmful" motivations for engaging in such practice. Part Four examines three U.S. Supreme Court decisions to address whether and how case decisions reflect those cultural practices identified in the literature. Part Five concludes with thoughts on the disconnect between cultural and legal practice. The law still largely sees anonymous speech as a singular construct, but may benefit from seeing anonymity as a set of practices. The author concludes that the cultural practice of anonymity is itself a wearer of many masks and traditions; courts would do well to recognize the many faces of and motivations for anon.
Keywords: anonymity, online anonymity
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