Public Platforms and Anonymity: Real Name Policies and Freedom of Speech

Speaker: Mathias Klang
19 Nov 2014 - 12:15pm to 1:30pm
Annenberg School for Communication, Room 300

Seen as a political actor, the anonymous individual has often been interpreted as being a threat to the democratic process. With the lack of identity, comes a lack of intent to take culpability for ones actions, which in turn, leads to a disregard for social norms. At the same time, anonymity, and pseudonymity, have been seen as valuable processes in ensuring fearless participation in the democratic process.

Since the advent of social media, many communications barriers for individuals have been lowered. Indeed, for certain groups, not participating in social media is seen as a handicap as this is where individuals and minority groups stand the greatest chance of reaching a majority audience.

However, these communications platforms are corporate ventures whose primary goal is to profit on the users by building algorithmic identities and using these for marketing purposes. For this goal social networks are designed to find out as much as possible about the users, and have instituted real-name policies. Despite several examples where users have been harmed through policies such as these, social networking sites still insist on their policies.

The goal of this work is to understand the connection between anonymity and political participation, the growing dependence on social networks for political speech, and the balance between a sites terms of use and promoting democratic participation.

This seminar is part of the CGCS’ Internet Policy Observatory lunchtime series. Click here to learn more about the Internet Policy Observatory. Lunch will be served.

Mathias Klang is an Associate Professor at the University of Göteborg. His principle research focuses on the ways in which communication technologies both enable and control our social interactions. Within this area he is especially interested in the impacts of technology on human rights. Among his longer published works in the field are Human Rights in a Digital Age and Disruptive Technology: Effects of Technology Regulation on Democracy. These works contribute to the discussion of the discrepancies between the potential of technology for the advancement of civil rights and democracy, and the emergence of sophisticated surveillance and regulation through technology. For more information see

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