Despite trolls, hate, and lies, we still need online anonymity

This week I spoke about “challenges for religious freedom in the digital age” at the International Association for Religious Freedom’s world congress in Birmingham, U.K.

Audience members and panelists identified anti-religious “hate speech” as one of today’s most pressing concerns. The real problem, most agreed, is online anonymity.

When trolls hide behind pseudonyms they can say whatever they like to offend and to inflict emotional pain, some argued. So what’s to stop anonymous Internet users from inciting violence, spewing libel and spilling state secrets?

Existing laws, terms of service and community guidelines.

If someone uploads illegal material to YouTube, it can be deleted. If one Facebook user bullies or harasses another, the company can terminate the offending account. If someone posts an anti-Semitic rant on the Judaism subreddit, moderators can remove it.

But what if something just rubs you the wrong way? What if it contradicts your firmly held beliefs? What if it angers, appalls or offends you?

This is the price (or benefit) of living in a relatively free society…