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SLAPPing e-Publius: Protecting anonymous expression and reputation in a digital age
Unformatted Document Text:  Running  head:  SLAPPing  e-­‐Publius     18   It is the tradition of these noble, long-standing practices of anonymous and pseudonymous journalism, literature, and political writing that plaintiffs can find difficult to overcome in attempting to force disclosure of an anonymous poster online. As Smith Ekstrand wrote, “the tales of the Founding Fathers and The Federalist Papers serve as a compelling narrative against which plaintiffs must wage a major uphill battle in any anonymous speech case. Such compelling historical narratives will continue to be extraordinarily difficult for courts in anonymous online speech cases to ignore. After all, none of us is here without Publius.” 65 This hallowed place in American democracy and the many benefits of anonymity in expression add up to great freedom to speak. 66 Anonymous speakers can be unorthodox, eccentric, and experimental without risking damage to one’s reputation, and the absence of an author’s name or byline can be important in the pure presentation of ideas. Anonymity removes reader biases or prejudices associated with any particular author, and because readers cannot rely on authorship cues, such as status markers or reputation, in interpreting and interacting with the message. Writing anonymously can eliminate or at least reduce the fear of retribution, such as being fired from one’s job or                                                                                                                 65 Victoria Smith Ekstrand, Whither Anon? Of McIntyre, Mormons, Manifestness, and the Motivations for Speaking Anonymously Online, unpublished manuscript, 42. 66 For an excellent list of “rationales for anonymity,” which includes a cataloging of many of the benefits of anonymity in expression, see Gary T. Marx, What’s in a Name? Some Reflections on the Sociology of Anonymity, 15 T HE I NFORMATION S OCIETY 99-112 (1999). This cataloging includes: to facilitate the flow of information; to obtain personal information for research; to encourage attention to the content of the message; to encourage reporting, information seeking, and self-help; to obtain a resource or encourage action involving illegality; to protect donors or those taking controversial but socially useful action; to protect strategic economic interests; to protect one’s time, space, and person; to aid judgments based on specified criteria; to protect reputation and assets; to avoid persecution; to enhance rituals, games, play, and celebrations; to encourage experimentation and risk-taking; to protect personhood; and traditional expectations (102). Marx also identifies the rationales for identifiability, which are accountability; reputation; dues paying and just deserts; organizational appetites: bureaucratic eligibility; interaction mediated by space and time; longitudinal research; health and consumer protection; currency of friendship and intimacy; social orientation to strangers; and reciprocity (105).

Authors: Carroll, Brian.
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Running  head:  SLAPPing  e-­‐Publius  
 
18  
 
It is the tradition of these noble, long-standing practices of anonymous and 
pseudonymous journalism, literature, and political writing that plaintiffs can find difficult 
to overcome in attempting to force disclosure of an anonymous poster online. As Smith 
Ekstrand wrote, “the tales of the Founding Fathers and The Federalist Papers serve as a 
compelling narrative against which plaintiffs must wage a major uphill battle in any 
anonymous speech case. Such compelling historical narratives will continue to be 
extraordinarily difficult for courts in anonymous online speech cases to ignore. After all, 
none of us is here without Publius.”
65
 
 
This hallowed place in American democracy and the many benefits of anonymity 
in expression add up to great freedom to speak.
66
 Anonymous speakers can be 
unorthodox, eccentric, and experimental without risking damage to one’s reputation, and 
the absence of an author’s name or byline can be important in the pure presentation of 
ideas. Anonymity removes reader biases or prejudices associated with any particular 
author, and because readers cannot rely on authorship cues, such as status markers or 
reputation, in interpreting and interacting with the message. Writing anonymously can 
eliminate or at least reduce the fear of retribution, such as being fired from one’s job or 
                                                                                                               
65
 Victoria Smith Ekstrand, Whither Anon? Of McIntyre, Mormons, Manifestness, and the Motivations for 
Speaking Anonymously Online, unpublished manuscript, 42. 
 
66
 For an excellent list of “rationales for anonymity,” which includes a cataloging of many of the benefits of 
anonymity in expression, see Gary T. Marx, What’s in a Name? Some Reflections on the Sociology of 
Anonymity
, 15
 
T
HE 
I
NFORMATION 
S
OCIETY
 99-112 (1999). This cataloging includes: to facilitate the flow of 
information; to obtain personal information for research; to encourage attention to the content of the 
message; to encourage reporting, information seeking, and self-help; to obtain a resource or encourage 
action involving illegality; to protect donors or those taking controversial but socially useful action; to 
protect strategic economic interests; to protect one’s time, space, and person; to aid judgments based on 
specified criteria; to protect reputation and assets; to avoid persecution; to enhance rituals, games, play, and 
celebrations; to encourage experimentation and risk-taking; to protect personhood; and traditional 
expectations (102). Marx also identifies the rationales for identifiability, which are accountability; 
reputation; dues paying and just deserts; organizational appetites: bureaucratic eligibility; interaction 
mediated by space and time; longitudinal research; health and consumer protection; currency of friendship 
and intimacy; social orientation to strangers; and reciprocity (105). 
 


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