Defending Anonymous Speech Online
The controversy surrounding a fake MySpace account that allegedly drove 13-year-old Megan Meier to commit suicide in October 2006 is raising new questions about the use of pseudonyms and false identities on social networking sites.
Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), said that there is a long history of anonymous speech in the United States, stretching all the way back to the Federalist Papers in 1787. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym "Publius" to advocate ratification of the United States Constitution, which was in danger of being rejected by New York state.
"If a prosecutor can maintain a case against a citizen who is merely using a pseudonym online, without more, it can have a chilling effect on free speech," Opsahl argued. "People can and should be responsible for their online actions, but one should address the actions, not the pseudonym."