Last week, Revolver published a piece outlining dangerous new threats to anonymous speech. We explained how, while conservatives should obviously be worried about the deliberate censorship of Donald Trump and other conservative leaders, they should arguably be even more worried about protecting the right of individuals to speak and converse anonymously online. But so far, sadly yet unsurprisingly, the GOP’s attitude toward online anonymity has ranged from indifference to outright complicity in its destruction.
As we wrote in Part One:
The United States was essentially founded by the 1700s equivalent of an online shitposting cabal. John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” uniting the colonies against the Townshend Acts, were published anonymously. Common Sense? Published anonymously. The Federalist Papers? An anonymous collaboration of John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. The anti-federalists “Brutus,” “Cato,” and the “Federal Farmer,” whose arguments were crucial in bringing about the Bill of Rights, weren’t just anonymous at the time; their identities remain uncertain and speculative to this day.
As such, the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed a right to anonymous speech, and with good reason. As the Court wrote in McIntyre vs. Ohio Election Commission:
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority… It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation.
Without anonymous speech, there would arguably be no Founding Fathers, no Revolutionary War, and no America. And yet, the current incarnation of the GOP is completely silent about this fundamental right, and that’s only when they are not downright attacking it.
If the GOP wants to be a relevant and effective force on behalf of patriotic Americans who object to the current Regime, it absolutely must elevate the defense of anonymous speech and privacy more generally to the top of its policy agenda. Fortunately, there are many things conservatives can do to protect anonymity and privacy online, and with them the power to dissent against the Globalist American Empire and its big tech adjuncts.
As promised in our previous piece, here are a number of considerations that rising GOP leaders should take to heart as part of such an agenda.
1. Ban the sale of personal data on the private market
For decades, personal data has been routinely packaged and sold on the private market to all manner of companies: marketing firms, hedge funds, data analytics companies, and so forth. The conceit is that, as long as this data is anonymized, it can’t be used to identify anyone. And prior to the online age, that was the case; it wasn’t a huge threat to personal privacy that Visa was selling the shopping habits of millions of Americans.
But today, things are different. Apple has detailed facial maps of hundreds of millions of iPhone users. Oura has biometric data on anyone who uses an Oura Ring. Netflix knows everything about what you’ve watched on their service, Uber knows everywhere you’ve taken a cab, Facebook knows more about you than your parents. Countless companies have unfathomable amounts of information on their customers, and frequently, this information is for sale. It’s easy to imagine one company building an unfathomably vast database of information from many different sources, and using that collected data to triangulate and de-anonymize individual people.
The fix? Simple: Ban the sale of personal data, period. Additionally, require all companies to allow their users to opt out from the retention of data about them, including a right to retroactively delete all data at any time. To make sure such laws aren’t ignored, include severe penalties for violations.
2. Subject tech and social media companies to the same privacy standards as banks and hospitals
Most of the bedrock institutions of American life face major restrictions on what information they can give away. A bank can’t tell your ex-wife how much money is in your account. A hospital can’t tell an employer about your heart murmur. Your alma mater can’t hand your college transcript over to a reporter.
Not only that, but when a bank does share your personal information with someone else, you have to be notified, and if your information is subpoenaed by a court, you must be given a chance to respond and contest the subpoena.
Given the power that tech and social media hold over modern life, it’s time they face the same regulatory hurdles. They should be presumptively barred from sharing non-public information with others, and if your information is subpoenaed, they should be required to give notice and an opportunity to contest the the demand.
3. Regulate the use of AI programs to de-anonymize individuals using public data.
In Part 1, Revolver described the frightening advances in AI technology that will allow powerful actors to unmask anonymous speech through a combination of massive computing power and massive databases of information. Already, the technology exists to collect anonymously-written statements, compare them with non-anonymous writings, and use the comparisons to unmask anonymous writers. According to a source Revolver spoke with, it’s an open secret in the AI world that some actors are already doing this.
It may be impossible to ban such programs from being used. But conservatives could ban the sale of de-anonymization services, or require all firms that offer it to also offer free audits to individuals so they can see what anonymous online content is linked to their name, much like financial institutions offer credit reports to consumers.
4. Revive and strengthen the tort for public disclosure of private facts
Most people are familiar with torts like libel: If someone knowingly spreads damaging lies about you in public, then you have the right to sue them for damages. But damaging information doesn’t have to be a lie to be actionable.
When Hulk Hogan successfully sued Gawker in 2016, his case wasn’t that Gawker had lied about him. Rather, it was that Gawker maliciously published damaging and humiliating information about him that wasn’t of public concern.
Conservatives at the state level could, and should, revive and expand this tort for the doxing of anonymous individuals. If a person chooses to speak anonymously, and they aren’t using it to engage in illegal activity, then their private statements should be nobody’s concern. Destroying careers and reputations based on private, anonymous, and long-ago statements is one of the left’s favorite tactics. Conservatives should legally punish it.
5. Appoint court-appointed guardians to protect the interests of anonymous users whose identities are targeted for unmasking
Right now, if an anonymous Internet user faces even a frivolous lawsuit, that lawsuit can be used to dox their identity and expose them to reputational damage. Even showing up in court to defend oneself requires unmasking one’s identity, and there are cases where this unmasking is the only purpose of the lawsuit in the first place.
Legal remedies exist to stop this. Already, courts can appoint guardians ad litem to represent those who cannot appear themselves in court — for instance, minor children, or individuals in a coma. But this same protection could be extended to anonymous individuals who cannot appear in court without unmasking themselves. The guardians could look out for anonymous persons’ interests, and defend them against subpoenas, until a court ruling actually mandates they reveal their identities.
The above recommendations are certainly not exhaustive, but they gesture toward what a pro-anonymity, pro-privacy platform would look like should the GOP decide to get serious about this important issue. As with most issues of this kind, having the right policies is only one necessary ingredient to serving the interests of the American people–the right ideas must be combined with relentless persistence and courage. American patriots cannot afford to lose more ground to Big Tech and our corrupt Regime on the anonymity, privacy front. The time to act is now.