You Can Be Annoying if You Just Stay Anonymous

    January 13, 2006

Spirit of America defines its mission as extending “the goodwill of the American people to assist those advancing freedom, democracy and peace abroad.”

Advancing freedom and democracy includes free speech based on the introduction of a blog and wiki by the organization designed to aid individuals in repressive countries to blog anonymously. In countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and others, blogging your mind can land you in jail, so the ability to maintain anonymity becomes important.

According to a press release, the BlogSafer wiki

…hosts a series of targeted guides to anonymous blogging, each of which outline steps a blogger in a repressive regime can take, and tools to use, to avoid identification and arrest. These range from common sense actions such as not providing identifying details on a blog to the technical, such as the use of proxy servers.

The Blogsafer wiki is accompanied by anoniblog, a blog dedicated to the same subject. According to an Information Week article, some critics have blasted the wiki, suggesting that you can’t trust anonymous sources. The site’s creators defend the practice. On a message board, they wrote:

In the reality of a world in which critics of certain regimes get interrogated, fired from their jobs, tortured, expelled and sentenced to long prison terms for dissent, it is an uncertainty we have to live with.

Based on reports circulating throughout the blogosphere, anyone blogging anonymously in the US might want to read BlogSafer guide, or the one the Electronic Frontier Foundation has had on its site for a while. US President George Bush recently signed the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, which includes the following provision, which was added by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), titled “Preventing Cyberstalking;”

Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.’s Declan McCullagh has a terrific analysis of the law, but in a nutshell, if you blog (or even comment on someone else’s blog) anonymously, you could be fined or jailed for up to two years. Who defines what’s “annoying?” Who knows? But this un-American stifling of free speech (which extends to email, Usenet posts, message boards, etc.) means anyone who wants to communicate anonymously in the US needs to take the same precautions as someone in Iran. I bet Spirit of America didn’t have Americans in mind when they created their collaborative anonymous blogging guide.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.