Hide and Seek the Truth? – Anonymity and Transparency in the Digital Age

24 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2022

See all articles by Amit M. Schejter

Amit M. Schejter

Pennsylvania State University; Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Moran Yemini

Center for Cyber, Law and Policy, University of Haifa; Information Society Project, Yale Law School; Digital Life Initiative, Cornell Tech

Date Written: August 1, 2022

Abstract

Conventional free speech theory and doctrine treats anonymity, the ability to disseminate information without disclosing one's identity, as crucial to the promotion of free speech, and to securing a viable system of free expression. Anonymity has been tied to speakers’ autonomy over the content of their speech, including how they present their identities to others; to the encouragement of expression in circumstances where individuals would not otherwise participate in public discussion for fear of being ridiculed, harassed, or retaliated against; and to the support valuable institutions such as whistle-blowing, voting, and political engagement. However, the rise of mediated interpersonal and “mass-personal” communications, which allow for anonymization of messaging at a mass scale have led to the abuse of anonymity. Anonymity has become in itself a shield from accountability in the commission of wrongs (e.g. cyber-bullying, harassment, defamation), and perhaps most importantly – undermines the very rationales of a principle of free speech, such as the quest for truth and the promotion of collective self-government. We believe this requires taking a closer look at the value of anonymity, and its relation to a principle of free speech in the age of digital technologies. In this study, we encounter the advantages and disadvantages of anonymity in the era of mediated social networking. We present the arguments that had created such constructs as journalist source privileges and closed-door court sessions and the justification for those constructs in the traditional media field. We then demonstrate how the rise in electronic communications in general and social-networking in particular have allowed anonymity to become a tool of disinformation, which is often malicious. Building upon the theory of "media transparency," which we developed in the early days of the contemporary internet-based media environment we present the case for a nuanced approach to anonymity that takes into account both the need to uncover social ills and the obligation to engage in responsible social discourse.

Suggested Citation

Schejter, Amit M. and Schejter, Amit M. and Yemini, Moran, Hide and Seek the Truth? – Anonymity and Transparency in the Digital Age (August 1, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4177682 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4177682

Amit M. Schejter (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

106 Carnegie
College of Communications
University Park, PA 16802
United States
814-865-3717 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.personal.psu.edu/ams37/

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev ( email )

Beer--Sheva, 84105
Israel

Moran Yemini

Center for Cyber, Law and Policy, University of Haifa ( email )

Mount Carmel
Haifa, 31905
Israel

Information Society Project, Yale Law School ( email )

Digital Life Initiative, Cornell Tech

111 8th Avenue #302
New York, NY 10011
United States

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