Thu, Apr 02, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Anonymity no cloak for free speech

By Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑

Since the articles of former Government Information Office official Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) surfaced, no one — neither in the pan-blue or pan-green camp — has voiced approval of Kuo’s statements. However, some individuals have defended him, saying his articles are protected by freedom of speech. As they were published on blogs under a pseudonym, they say Kuo should not be punished.

Some of his defenders are highly placed intellectuals, such as Shih Chih-yu (石之瑜), a National Taiwan University professor of political science, and Hsieh Ta-ning (謝大寧), a former convener of the Democracy Advancement Alliance.

Kuo himself is of the same opinion, and he argues with force that: “Publishing anonymously or under a pseudonym is a basic principle of freedom of expression. … If everything must be in the open, then there is no freedom of expression to talk of … You must not trace the writer. That was done by the [now abolished] Taiwan Garrison Command during the Martial Law era, but you cannot do this in the democratic era, as it violates basic principles of democracy and freedom of expression.”

Such anonymous protest goes against common sense. By having the right to speak, you are also responsible for what you say. You must be responsible for the irritation you cause others and you must also be accountable for any possible charges of insult, defamation or plagiarism. The most basic requirement for taking such responsibility is to let people know that you have said something. In particular, when you criticize the political situation or the conduct of others, you have to provide a chance for people to examine whether you are qualified to offer such criticism. If you don’t, you’re merely defaming people.

Once you’ve said something, your statement is an objective social fact. Those insulted will be insulted even if they don’t know who the person insulting them is; and those who are defamed will be defamed just the same. If being anonymous absolves one of responsibility, then police would not have to catch fraudsters, who never use their real names when committing a crime, nor would they have to trace individuals who seduce teenagers online, since they never reveal their true identities.

Many writers choose to write under a pseudonym. But throughout history, there were probably few who have been afraid to admit their real name or claim that their freedom of expression can only be protected by anonymity. So Chinese writer Lu Xun (魯迅) did hide his real name — Zhou Shuren (周樹人). Even if the whole world opposed his surgically precise critique of Chinese culture, he faced criticism from all sides calmly.

Similarly, writer Lao She (老舍) did not deny that his name was Shu Qingchun (舒慶春), nor did Bo Yang (柏楊) deny that he was Teng Ting-sheng (鄧定生). Rising online writer Jiu Ba Dao (九把刀) does not deny that he is Giddens Ko (柯景騰). Not even famous commentators on TV would dare reject their names in court.

Many people like to stab others in the back, acting like bullies who attack people with bricks in dark alleys. With the rise of the Internet and blogs, such behavior is almost everywhere. Many young people think that “anonymous democracy” is genuine democracy, and that “anonymous slander” is freedom of expression.

Those who enjoy freedom of expression must take responsibility for their statements. This principle will never change. Publishing a blog is not about writing a diary or communicating with specific friends. Rather, it is a matter of voicing one’s personal opinions for anyone to see. Once your statements involve insults or defamation, you have to bear the consequences of being identified by others.

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