After reading some vile, anonymous online comments, Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro has decided the government should consider ending people’s ability to post anonymously on the Internet.
“One of the best ways to end online and electronic bullying, libel and slander would be to force people posting hurtful comments to properly identify themselves,” he posted on his Facebook page on Oct. 25.
He brought the same message to the House of Commons when he suggested banning anonymity wouldn’t get in the way of free speech.
“While I believe firmly that the right to free speech must be strongly defended and protected, I also believe it should be backed up by the common decency to stand by one’s words as opposed to hiding behind online anonymity,” he said.
Del Mastro declined Metro’s request for an interview on the issue, so it is unclear what specific actions he thinks the government should take or how banning Internet anonymity could be enforced.
Nathalie Des Rosiers, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says judges would strike down a law that prohibits anonymity online.
“It’s difficult to imagine how we can protect freedom of expression without protecting some form of anonymity with websites and comments online,” she said. “It’s essential to recognize that good intentions of having people stand by their words chill and prevent many useful expressions that cannot be done publicly.”
People choose to be anonymous online for many constructive reasons, she said. They include being a whistleblower, reporting incidents of bullying or just having a social or political conversation that they would not want their families, friends or employers to know about.
“In my view, the real answer to vitriolic, terrible, nasty comments on the web is not to engage with them,” she said. “The people who do vitriolic things — their greatest reward is when we respond and give them an additional platform.”
Des Rosiers suggests teaching kids to be “resilient” against bullying would help them in a way that wouldn’t deprive them of their rights.
Del Mastro isn’t the only politician talking about bullying. The NDP is asking for the federal government to strike an all-party committee to create a National Anti-Bullying Strategy. MP Dany Morin said the idea would be to consider the best means of combating bullying and then create a plan. But at this point he is unwilling to get into specifics about what the strategy might contain.
A senate committee is studying cyberbullying, but the report, originally scheduled for release in October, has been delayed.
Privacy doesn’t shield bullies
The right to privacy doesn’t extend to anonymous bullies, according to Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner.
“Obviously I’m a great believer in privacy, I’m the privacy commissioner, but I think you forfeit your right to privacy when you go online to victimize someone else,” said Ann Cavoukian. “Privacy isn’t there to enable you to do completely unacceptable behaviour that is harmful to others.”
Cavoukian urges parents, teachers and students to discuss bullying publicly, while respecting the privacy rights of the victim. For example, teachers can deter bullying by publicizing incidents and the consequences perpetrators face to the school, but refrain from naming the bullies and victims.
Cavoukian said she believes police have all the laws they need to police bullying when it becomes criminal and trace cyberbullies who try to remain anonymous.
To hear more of her views, see her anti-bullying video at ipc.on.ca.