Online Masquerade: Redesigning the Internet for Free Speech Through the Use of Pseudonyms

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Anonymity promotes free speech by protecting the identity of people who might otherwise face negative consequences for expressing their ideas. Wrongdoers, however, often abuse this invisibility cloak. Defenders of anonymity online emphasise its value in advancing public debate and safeguarding political dissension. Critics emphasise the need for identifiability in order to achieve accountability for wrongdoers such as trolls. The problematic tension between anonymity and identifiability online lies in the desirability of having low costs (no repercussions) for desirable speech and high costs (appropriate repercussions) for undesirable speech. If we practice either full anonymity or identifiability, we end up having either low or high costs in all online contexts and for all kinds of speech. I argue that free speech is compatible with instituting costs in the form of repercussions and penalties for controversial and unacceptable speech. Costs can minimise the risks of anonymity by providing a reasonable degree of accountability. Pseudonymity is a tool that can help us regulate those costs while furthering free speech. This article argues that, in order to redesign the Internet to better serve free speech, we should shape much of it to resemble an online masquerade.
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