Just about everyone has at least one pseudonym online. Our usernames and avatars allow us the privacy and freedom to share information online that we might not dare to in public life.
As a near-constant internet user, I probably have a dozen identities on a hundred websites.
With one identity, I can anonymously submit a review of a local restaurant without worrying about spit in my food. As another, I can discuss private habits or political opinions without the fear or retaliation.
This unique anonymity has fostered the amazing diversity of opinions online, allowing people who might otherwise be silenced, stigmatized or punished to express their views.
However, corporations and public officials are increasingly using frivolous lawsuits to intimidate individuals online and discourage debate.
These lawsuits demand the true identities behind anonymous usernames, using the threat of exposure to simply censor conversation instead of engaging in discussion and challenging critics.
Just recently, an official in the City of Warren attempted to unmask an internet critic on Warrenforum.net, a local political message board. In a victory for free speech, a Macomb County Court shielded the blogger's identity and upheld the right to remain anonymous and criticize government officials.
The increasing popularity of pseudonyms online has brought attention to such challenges to free speech. But anonymous political speech is neither new or historically controversial.
Since the founding of our nation and long before the internet, anonymous speech played a significant role in politics. In fact, the Constitution was adopted, in part, because of the influence of anonymous pamphlets signed "Publius" (in reality James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay).
In honor of this long tradition, the ACLU is part a coalition of civil liberties and privacy groups working to change legal standards and policies to better protect anonymous individuals from lawsuits. The illegitimate use of the courts to silence and retaliate against critics is a threat to everyone's right to speak freely on the internet.
The next time you or I use an anonymous account to share information on anything from crummy food to serious ethics violations, we can be content with the knowledge that we're carrying on a fine American tradition. The Founding Fathers did it, the Constitution protects it and the ACLU has got our back.
Court Upholds Right of Blogger to Remain Anonymous, Criticize Warren Officials