Sunday, March 29, 2009

Blogging: anonymity has been used for centuries

Some people question the validity of anonymous blogging. And since I was concerned about some of the comments that appear here, I investigated the legal aspects of it. In doing so, I stumbled across the Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice's opinion that suggests America would not exist today if not for the ability of The Founders to comment anonymously.

For instance, when Common Sense was written in 1776 no one knew Thomas Paine was the author. But even after the election of the first POTUS, George Washington, the anonymous pamphleteering continued.

In 1793 America read The Pacificus-Helvidius Debate - a debate on the Proclamation of Neutrality or a debate on executive vs. legislative powers in terms of foreign affairs.

But who were Pacificus and Helvidius?

Wikipedia offers this:

The proclamation started a war of pamphlets between Hamilton (writing for the Federalists), and Madison (writing for the Jeffersonian/Republicans).

And there was another notable name involved:

Jefferson, having read several of the "Pacificus" essays encouraged James Madison to reply.

Since Hamilton and Madison could "comment anonymously," the Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice is absolutely correct - there's nothing wrong with anonymous commenting on this blog.

One other piece of interest to me in reading the debates is the actual rhetoric. Oftentimes I hear that today's anonymous blogging is vicious (I agree) and that we should return to a kinder, gentler time. To that, I offer these comments from James "Helvidius" Madison:

Several pieces with the signature of Pacificus were lately published, which have been read with singular pleasure and applause, by the foreigners and degenerate citizens among us, who hate our republican government, and the French revolution ; whilst the publication seems to have been too little regarded, or too much despised by the steady friends to both.

Frankly, it doesn't sound all that different from today's "you hate America" comments... which are completely over the top IMO. But certainly nothing new. And I firmly believe that America would not exist today, if not for the ability of Thomas Paine and others to voice their concerns anonymously and without fear of reprise from the government.

Tim White


Anonymous said...

Commenting anomymously allows people to voice their ideas and thoughts without fear of retribution and that is good for our form of government.

Can you imagine a town employee or teacher voicing their an opinion their administration didn't like?
We know people are afraid to voice their opinions and even more afraid to be quoted. In Cheshire, ayou do what the boss, both management and union boss, says and keep your mouth shut.

Some feel that some blog comments are stupid, crazy, worthless or contrary to their thinking, but that's the nature of free speech.

Tim does a great job in allowing people to voice their opinions and seldom censors. You will find many comments, most of which are anonymous, on Tim's blog, and almost no comments on the Underground Town Hall that doesn't permit anonymous or screens out.

Robert DeVylder Jr. said...

Tim, I agree that anonymity has helped this country become what it is today (good or bad). But, with people hiding behind a flase name, laws were created to protect the victims of slander and libel. Doing a little research, I found that on the internet, it is harder to be anonymous than you think. I.P addresses are linked to every post and publishment and are directed to a certain link. That address can be traced to a phone number, home address, name, etc. One supreme court ruling I found from 1999 was a doctor that was the victim of libel. He resigned his position at a college. An anonymous post on a Yahoo site stated that he left because of kickbacks. The investigators followed to I.P. address to a doctor working for a competing supplier and was sued for $600,000.

The media is required to have contact information from anonymous sources. This is incase there is a legal need to contact the person. In the instance that the media does not give up the source, the person responsible for the media source can be held in contempt either by imprisonment or by fining.

Tim, as the administrator of this blog, you have to be very careful of anything posted by an anonymous source. You personally become responsible for the content.

Just some information to share. By the way, can I have the names of the people that commited libel against me on the cocaine in the high school issue?

Robert DeVylder Jr. said...

10:51 and I must have been typing our messages at the same time otherwise I would have included this.

I've noticed that Tim does censor postings if they are against him. Personal attacks on people that read and post here appear to be ok. If thats not the case, than I would guess that Tim is not reading any of these and isnt listening to the residents and voters in this town.

As far as speaking out against an administration, I believe that doing so as an anonymous source does nothing to help an issue. There is no name, no face, no voice to the issue. Anonymous postings are like graffiti on the bathroom wall... interesting to read but will not dictate change. How can any dept. head make change based on anonymous postings on a blog? As far as he/she knows, it can be the same person numerous times or it can be hundreds of people. Look at the Cheshire Herald, no letters to the editor get printed without verification of authenticity. They do not want to be the responsible party for someones rant.

tim white said...

IP addresses are handy for investigators and helpful. And long-time users here know I could get my hands on them, if I wanted. But the whole legal field is still developing. The FBI was in CT investigating some bogus posts from "The Hon. Harry Reid" that supported Lieberman for the 2006 Dem nomination over Lamont. But that investigation never went anywhere.

As for libel, I believe there needs to be some sort of economic damage proven.

What are you talking about on the CHS drug post? That was from two weeks ago. Frankly when the comments started getting as long as they did, I stopped reading them and relied on bloggers to tell me about anything they felt was OTT. Also, most posts "die" after a few days with no one ever reading them again. That's one of the aspects of blogging that many people don't yet recognize. Blogging is, to some degree, information overload... and most things will long be forgotten by the entire world soon after posts are published.

If you direct me to a particular comment, I'll read it and may edit / delete it.

Robert DeVylder Jr. said...

The "Harry Ried" Posts were tracked to a series of public computers, whereas most posts to this blog would be tracked to a personal home or business computer.

Libel charges can be brought for 4 reasons: economic, sexual, professional, and religous harassment.

Blogs do not "die" , they remain aslong as the administrator lets them. As long as a blog is left online, it can be found simply by googling it.

Take a look at the last 2 dozen blogs under the cocaine issue. Anything you wouldnt want to take credit for should be addressed. I shouldnt have to tell you this.

Tim White said...

I scanned through the later comments, as you suggested. There were some pretty outrageous ones and I deleted them. Feel free to request deletions anytime.

Anonymous said...

Couple of things: Ever heard the name "Silence DoGood"? A VERY famous American hid behind that name for years...

Especially when commenting about the TM & his dept mgrs and Police you should remain anoymous. They are a vindictive bunch. Just ask the people who bought houses with the quarry mines underneath or the guy who used to own the Chechire Theater...When they uttered critisim, the former was sued & the latter they made him teear down the building...

Anonymous said...

Wow, here we go again! Next thing you know someone will be demanding that election officials be allowed to correct your secret ballot before you enter it into the anonymous scanner.

Mr. Devylder, you cant's spell insight - insite. You are not a licensed attorney even though you are publishing your legal opinion here. You apparently are not familiar with some of the more insidious things which your computer can be made to do, like secretly provide all your key strokes and file information to nefarious 3rd parties out there whenever you are hooked to an internet connection.

With all the problems facing this town, like no one is really going to bail out Cheshire in the end, so either we really cut budgets (and staff) now or we too will be looking like Chrysler in the near future. Whining about unsigned vs. signed posts seems like a lame but safe thing to waste our energy on - - -

Robert DeVylder Jr. said...

To March 30, 2009 1:15 PM

The movie theater was ordered to be torn down for safety reasons. The building was falling down and was condemed after the southern wall started to collapse. At that time, the owner was told to repair or remove the building and HE chose the latter. The town Building Inspector has a duty to the residents of Cheshire to inspect complaints of unsafe dwellings. That is why the cinema had to be torn down.

The residents that bought homes on mines should have known about the risks that come with property in this region. It's not a secret that there was a great amount of mining in Cheshire in the early 1800's. There are books about it in the library, a display in the historical society, and McDonalds was even decorated with information about mining activities. The reason the resident is being sued is he had an air shaft open, he complained to the town then refused to let anyone inspect the hole or pull a permit for work done. The entire sitsuation was handled wrong by both parties.

To March 30, 2009 8:40 PM

I can spell any word any way I want. I believe that is one of few negative things you can come up against me. You are right, I am not a lawyer, but thanks to the Internet, there is a wealth of information available online. These are not my legal opinions that I offer, these are facts that can be supported and in most cases, I offer the link to this. I get criticized weither I cut and paste or simplify the explanation. insite insite insite insite insite insite insite insite insite insite insite insite insite...does that bother you?

Anonymous said...

12:37 a.m. I hope you know the difference between sight and site. If insite existed it would probably be a whole lot different from having an intuitive understanding. Maybe it would be a technical term used by civil engineers for instance. That being said if your posts were all of the anonymous type one would never equate you as the owner of insite in the first place.

Using the internet for research is a great first step but we all need to remember the internet is not refereed like many professional journals are so when you use stuff from the internet there is a much higher probability you are dealing in half truths and pointed views. Spend time at a real library if you can find one which is open.

And while I'm at it, stop whining about what you consider a negative aspect of this blog,unsigned posted . TW has gone way beyond the combined efforts of the majority TC members in helping to open local government to all the local electorate. As 1:115 pm explained it "...Especially when commenting about the TM & his dept mgrs and Police you should remain anonymous. They are a vindictive bunch. .."

Anonymous said...

RE: Quarry Mines--You're nuts. The Town Officials--real estate people--developers...ALL of the OLD names of Cheshire KNEW about the mines; the newcomers to Cheshire did NOT. unlike PA or KY, when you buy a house you don't ask ?'s about mines. Watch how much $$ the Town will ahve to payout when that lawsuit is settled.

Robert DeVylder Jr. said...

you are absolutely right, the town, developers, and realtors do know about the mines. They have since the start of Cheshire. If people spend time researching dishwashers before they buy them, why not research your property? I know the library has numerous books on the history of Cheshire and they all mention the mines. The developer knew of the mines, should have told the first buyer, and they should have told the next buyer, etc. There are numerous people that should have alerted these people to the existance of mines but they all apparently failed. I would think that they share as much accountability as the town.

I personally have been to the town managers office, and various department heads and I do not find them "vindictive" as claimed. The last thing that these people want to do is tick someone off and have them make waves. If you were to go and talk to these people as adults, you would probably agree that they are humans too.