BY RICK FALKVINGE
PRIVATE INTERNET ACCESS
A criminal group has obtained personal details for one of Sweden’s largest anonymous forums. Done to scare, intimidate, and out political opponents discussing under protection of anonymity, the collateral damage is immeasurable.
People were never fired for having private photos exposed. However, people have been fired, evicted, and divorced for having private opinions exposed – and still are. This highlights the asymmetry of which privacy leaks are reported on widely (nude photos) and which ones aren’t (anonymity breaches). It’s disheartening to see the strong focus of oldmedia on anything remotely sexual, combined with the total lack of interest for things that build (or threaten) the foundations of society.
Anonymity is one such foundation. The ability to express oneself anonymously is a key tenet of Freedom of Speech, unless you’re into the Cuban version:
“Of course you have freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom AFTER speech.” — Fidel Castro
Opinions must be able to exist without holding somebody’s accountable for them, or society won’t evolve.
Everybody’s nude from time to time. Children are made, as evidenced by, well, children. While it’s supposed to be kept private, nobody’s really surprised or shocked that it does happen, so when photos surface from time to time (as behavior patterns have shifted to take photos of everything today), it’s embarrassing – but not much more.
When the wrong opinions surface, it ends somebody’s career, roof, and marriage. What’s worse – this consequence is sometimes the very purpose of those who seek to identify somebody behind a political, but anonymous, opinion. But anonymous opinions are as crucial to democracy as secret elections.
Freedom of Speech can be summarized as “The right of utter morons to be completely wrong”. And to clarify: that’s a GOOD thing.
Freedom of Speech was never needed to protect mainstream opinions: expressing that kittens are cute and that Game of Thrones takes much too long between seasons. And when somebody respected says something thoroughly despicable, they’re still protected by the establishment. However, when somebody despised says something totally disagreeable,that’s where Freedom of Speech comes in to protect the statement.
That’s what Freedom of Speech is for.
For in the end, it may turn out in one of two ways: either the despised were wrong, in which case, no harm done. Or they were right, in which case they have done a great service to civilization by taking the risk of exposing themselves with a controversial statement.
Examples of such statements that could just up until recently have ended somebody’s career, marriage, and housing:
- “People who happen to be born homosexual should have exactly the same rights as everybody else.”
- “Maybe we would all benefit from legalizing cannabis. It seems the alcohol and prison industries are the ones paying most to keep it illegal. I wonder if there’s a connection.”
- “I think people who happen to be born female should be able to have a career just like anybody in today’s workforce.”
Much less than a human lifetime ago, these were hugely controversial statements. They would get you shunned. It’s thanks to the troublemakers who exercised their Freedom of Speech, sometimes under a necessary cover of anonymity, that society has progressed. (Sadly, in many parts of the world, these statements are still controversial.)
This doesn’t even start to go into the collateral damage of outing political opponents to scare them into not exercising their freedoms of speech and opinion:
Imagine if every throwaway account on Reddit was suddenly doxed and identified. Just /r/offmychest would be a disaster. Not to mention /r/abusevictims. This is the local equivalent in Sweden, and it just happened.
This criminal group has done immeasurable damage to the trust fabric of society.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.