Here's a scenario for you to consider on Wiki Wednesday.
Assume that John Seigenthaler gets what he wants from his criticism of Wikipedia. He very well may gain congressional hearings on anonymity. Purportedly in comments to a post by Larry Sanger that begs the question, his intent is to have the private sector regulate anonymity on the net.
The way he described it, you could shift the burden by changing the law so that Internet Service Providers would evaluate the plaintiff's evidence, and decide themselves whether revealing the customer's identity might be appropriate. If the decision is yes, at that point the ISP notifies the customer, who is given the opportunity to initiate legal proceedings to enjoin the ISP from revealing his identity.
Given the consolidation of telecom, this would empower a handful of ISPs, as in 5, to be judge and jury for revealing identity. Anonymity is a critical facet of society, and it's value is more than whistle-blowing. I wouldn't call it a right, but would call it a feature of the virtual and real worlds (we don't walk around with name-tags). Regardless of how you value anonymity, you should agree that this would:
- create undue costs for ISPs,
- privatize governance and enforcement,
- create undue legal costs for consumers, which
- could lead to infringements on civil liberties, because
- customers would be guilty until proven innocent.
Now, if the ISP or legal action revealed the libelous party it would resolve Seigenthaler's complaint against Wikipedia.
Beyond this attempt to weaken anonymity on the Net, Wikipedia's open nature is also under attack. Adam Curry edited podcasting history in his favor. Big deal. It's a wiki, just edit it if you disagree and let the community's practice work over time.
Consider regulating against graffiti. You have two options:
- Guard every wall in town to prevent the infraction from occurring
- Paint over infractions and enforce the law by chasing down perpetrators
The former is not just prohibitively expensive, it kills creativity and culture. The later is the status quo and generally works, especially where communities flourish.
So what would have Wikipedia do? Lock down contributions through a fact checking process with rigid policy? Or let people contribute, leverage revision history and let the group revert infractions.
Social media is disruptive. The role of regulation significantly impacts how society will manage transition. Today much of media is regulated through complaints (e.g. indecency). It only takes one horror story for us to loose freedom of anonymous speech. The easiest and most dangerous way to curb social media is to have it conform to mainstream models.
UPDATE: Cnet has a pretty good article on the liability reform sought by Seigenthaler, the first argument I made. Mitch Ratcliffe takes issue with my second argument, about how a wiki works and how best to regulate it. Mitch, you keep trying to fit Wikipedia into your model of how an encyclopedia should be instead of recognizing how it is different. A print version of Wikipedia should have an editorial process bolted on to emergent practice, as it is a comparable product, frozen in time. But instead, the evolving nature of Wikipedia needs to be recognized and celebrated for what it is. Help people understand what it is, not what it is not.
FURTHER: Doc Searls on the first argument, "Identity without anonymity is like math without zero."