Fair or Unfair Use of Anonymous Speech
The internet has added another layer to politics. Anonymous political commentary, long an American tradition, has had a rebirth. I would argue that anonymity has an important place in political discussion, but that we as a community need to decide exactly what that place is.
My opinion is that anonymity is appropriate if the topic of the commentary is controversial enough to cause trouble to the writer. Thus, for me, who goes by the pseudonym “Criticus” given my penchant for discussing internal matters of the Republican Party, I have no doubt that my employer might be nervous about retaliation when I am critical. Whether or not such retaliation is probable is not the point, the point is that this is my protection from grief.
I would argue that there is a limit to what is acceptable in anonymous commentary. The commentary should be political, rather than personal in nature. It should not be intentionally defamatory. This is where I have seen, over the past two years, a number of anonymous emails cross what I think is the line. These emails, and I’m not going to republish them here, have been personal in nature, and sent with the intent to harm specific individuals for political reasons. Let me be clear though, I would not have a problem with anonymous email generally, if they were frank discussions of policy or politics, rather than personal. Frankly, I believe that if I were the subject of any numbers of these emails, I would resort to litigation.
Many of these anonymous emails over the last couple of years have involved the local Republican Party and its leadership. As I stated when I began writing for this blog, the Republican Party is of particular interest to me as an observer. Part of my reason for writing is to take a fairly neutral look at the internal discussions of the GOP, to the extent I can figure them out, and figure out what is happening, and why.
I certainly don’t collect these emails, but the anonymous accusations have included, by my memory: accusations of corruption by elected officials, accusations of corruption by private citizens, accusations of corruption by party officials, allegations of ongoing federal investigations, allegations of ongoing state investigations, allegations of ongoing local investigations, and a host of other nasty assertions, any one of which could ruin a person. Honestly, having read several of them, and some of them are fairly long, they make some pretty outrageous claims. So from time to time I am going to look at them, discuss the assertion a bit here, and make the call whether I think the assertions are a fair or unfair use of anonymity.
To the case at hand. A couple days ago I received an anonymous email thirdhand claiming that California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring assaulted his girlfriend, and that San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric covered it up. The email was calling on both to resign. Obviously, if this email were true, I think we would all agree that a resignation would be appropriate.
This morning I got another email with an article from the Sacramento Bee about the anonymous email. The gist of the article from my perspective is “he said she said”. He says she’s obsessive (and to be fair the paper implied that this was the case), and that he had to forcibly remove her from his house. She says that it was a bit more than a removal. My wife read the article and noted that ‘well sounds like since no one was there, we’ll never know’ and I think that hits the nail on the head. There was no police report or other documentation, and this event occurred a few years ago.
Should this be enough to ask two individuals to resign their positions within the party? I just don’t see it. Maybe someone else can help clear this up for me, but looking at this neutrally I don’t see how you can ask people to move aside based wholly on the evidence we’ve seen. As such, I think the original anonymous email was an unfair use of anonymity to distribute what amounts to a untruth or at the least something that cannot be proven.