The author and independent scholar Susan Jacoby makes a very good point in her Washington Post blog:
In my view—and I have already said this many times in my “On Faith” posts—anonymity is precisely what devalues the quality of discussion on the Internet. If I had my way, everyone who comments on a blog like this one would be required to use his or her own name. I know, from my readers’ comments, that almost no one agrees with me. But I’ll say it again: free speech is meaningful only when people are willing to stand up and take responsibility for their opinions—before their neighbors, their families, and their fellow citizens. It’s regrettable enough that the Web is used to spread anonymous lies that can have a serious impact on other people’s reputations.
Jacoby's comments came to mind when I read this interview with the journalist Kay Sokolowsky in Telepolis: Der Hass auf Muslims hat sich in Deutschland wie eine Epidemie breitgemacht (Hatred against Muslims is spreading like an epidemic in Germany):
Die Autoren und Hardcore-User von PI sind die Avantgarde des Muslimhasses. Sie tummeln sich überall, wo das Web 2.0 ihnen die Möglichkeit gibt, ihr Gift zu verspritzen (The authors and hardcore users of PI (Politically Incorrect) are the avant garde of anti-Muslim hate. They are found everywhere where the Web 2.0 provides them with the possibility of spreading their poison)
Of course, Sokolowsky is referring to the Politically Incorrect hate blog where anonymous users routinely post comments advocating violence against Muslims in Germany. The operators of this blog, however, are not anonymous, and host the site on servers in the US. But how many of the commenters would be so open in expressing hate if they were forced to post under their actual names? Even worse than Politically Incorrect, however, is the homophobic "Catholic" site kreuz.net, which openly propagates Holocaust denial (a crime under German law). I have written about my efforts to shut down this site after anonymous commenters advocated violence against President Obama. How brave would these anonymous violence advocates be if they had to reveal their true identities?
I'm all for freedom of speech. Germany should decriminalize Holocaust denial and reform its laws pertaining to "incitement" (Volksverhetzung). Let people openly admit their Islamophobia, homophobia, and rabid anti-Semitism. But they should be required to do it under their own names.