EspañolThere’s a person out there on the internet who claims I was raped. He uses a pseudonym to write all sorts of false accusations, one of them being that a man molested me during a cult initiation ritual. I won’t grant him any publicity by linking to his blog, but suffice to say the website is riddled with insane stories mixed in with small grains of truth that give it a sprinkling of authenticity.
The blog’s author is able to malign others without consequence thanks to online anonymity. Some will argue that forbidding anonymous online publishing is necessary to avoid this kind of harassment. However, if we go down that path, we’ll miss out on more than just the imaginative stories of delusional individuals. Complaints, unpopular opinions, memes, and other anonymous content will be tossed out along with them — even including articles on the PanAm Post.
Unfortunately, this might happen in Chile, if the backers of two bipartisan bills in Congress have their way. The draft legislation aims to reform the obscure “media law” and effectively curtail online freedom of speech. The policy change would turn bloggers and social-media users into regulated “media outlets,” forcing them to sign up for a government license and reveal their true names online.
Deputies from both the opposition Independent Democratic Union (UDI) and the progressive ruling coalition New Majority support the initiative. If passed, the law would require all online outlets that update their website four or more times a week to meet the same requirements as print publications.
— RAÚL BASUALTO (@RaulBasualto) January 8, 2015
The law would further oblige publications to register the name of their owner and physical address, publicly display the name of the owner, and establish a director that doesn’t enjoy judicial immunity as a result of holding a public office. If publishing content in Spanish, a legal address in Chile will be required. For commercial enterprises, “their president and administrators, or legal representatives, must be Chileans.”
The proposed law’s reach would affect social-network users on Facebook, Twitter, or other blogging platforms that post new content “at least four times a week,” says Rayén Campusano, a public policy analyst at Digital Rights, a Chilean NGO that aims to protect freedom of speech on the internet.
— ► Felipe ★★★★★ (@FelipeL2012) January 8, 2015
In short, the legislation will mean the end of online anonymity for Chileans — what little web anonymity still remains, that is. Most data flowing around — at the very least those that reach a US server — are being monitored no matter where in the world you are. According to Francisco Vera, projects director at Digital Rights, the Chilean National Intelligence Agency (ANI) can request secret judicial warrants to access online information, just like the US NSA.
But what the bill does is bring the power to monitor online data within politicians’ reach, and end any presumption of digital anonymity. No wonder it has been met with opposition from Chileans across social networks, as well as from the Journalists College and the Chilean Media Association. Even NIC Chile, the state institution at the University of Chile in charge of assigning national “.cl” domain addresses, has warned that “it makes no sense to demand a domain name registration” as the bill requires, since there are various ways to publish on the internet without a domain.
No existe tal cosa como una buena ley de medios… Mientras más lejos del control de los medios estén los políticos, mejor 😉
— Eduardo Arriagada (@earriagada) January 6, 2015
There’s no such thing as a good media law. The farther they are from politicians’ reach, the better.
Anonymity: It’s Worth It
Anonymity doesn’t imply impunity, as those opposed to it would have you believe, for the simple reason that expression should never be a crime. It allows you to deflect the repercussions you would get, were you to reveal your real name. It allows political dissidents to criticize the status quo without fears of backlash from their governments. It allows public and private sector employees to leak public-interest information while avoiding reprisals, and ordinary people to ask questions or voice concerns online without being exposed to ridicule. Anonymity offers freedom.
That freedom naturally comes with risks, like being falsely identified as a rape victim on the internet. At the same time, it lets you avoid the clunking fist of the powerful and privileged when denouncing them for crimes they would otherwise get away with.
There will always be people bent on using anonymity to defame, insult, or harass others, but these are cases which are either already contemplated in the books, or in which the costs of regulation outweigh the benefits.
Chilean legislators should take note of the unintended consequences of their proposals before attempting to restrict their compatriots’ freedom of speech.
Translation by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez and Laurie Blair.