The internet has had a liberating impact for humanity. It allows the average person access to more information faster than kings and presidents of old. It is a platform for everyone from Charlie Sheen to protesters in Egypt to express themselves.
The internet is also unforgiving. The teenage girl who decides to make a few hundred bucks posing unclad in front of a camera may find that image googled during a job interview. The intemperate e-mail sent in anger will find itself forwarded to thousands. And if you choose to make threats, don’t think you will be able to hide behind an assumed name. A great example of this took place on St. Patrick’s day last.
During the late unpleasantness in Wisconsin, blogger Ann Althouse (who lives in the area) and her husband Lawrence Meade provided invaluable coverage, interviewing protesters and providing video that showed what was actually happening. It allowed millions to bypass the MSM who choose to whitewash the protests and their aftermath.
Opponents of Governor Walker, unable to filter Ann’s coverage were unhappy. One in particular, incensed at the videos, posted a threatening outburst so profane it was an effort to find a usable piece:
NOTICE – YOUR CITY OF MADISON PRIVILEGES HAVE BEEN REVOKED.
MADISON IS A #WIUNION CITY AND WE ARE MADISON. Did you really think this could go on forever? That you could sit on the steps of our house, walk the streets of our city, lie about us to strangers, tell gun-toting rednecks from out of state and the Northwoods how depraved and deserving of punishment we are all while maintaining plausible deniability for any of the consequences that your actions might cause?
Ann being Ann instantly linked to the anonymous rant at 1:43 p.m. It drew 531comments. It was linked by Instapundit at 4:53 p.m. At 6:39 p.m . Robert Stacy McCain went to work with more than ten updates and links to bloggers who were able to trace the author of the threats , a fellow named Jim Shankman, to the point where by 9 p.m. he had this to say on facebook:
Because of a right-blogosphere campaign to silence me, I have been forced to commit Identity Suicide. I have never supported or advocated violence for any purpose other than self-defense against terror attacks by the armed wing of the American Right….
Elapsed time from the initial link from Althouse to the exposure of this person’s identity: Under 8 hours, a single shift at work.
Forgetting the unreality of his self-pitying response (take a second look at the rant he made and reconcile it with the paragraph above) consider that even if he escapes prosecution for the threats he made, from this point on he will be publicly known for an attempt to silence and intimidate free speech. It’s already begun as Investors business daily has picked up the story.
The internet empowered Mr. Shankman’s ability to speak, but it does not restrain him from speaking intemperately if he choose to do so, nor does it protect him from the consequences of those words forever associated with him.
As Stacy McCain concluded :
You can blog anything you want, under any name you want, but if you think you can do attack-blogging anonymously, you’d better think twice.
This lesson is important to all. The internet is forever. It empowers both the wise and the foolish. Make sure that you are not among the foolish before you hit the post or the send button.