The end of anonymous trolling?

So long, farewell?
Yes, my headline is wishful thinking. But this is definitely a step in the right direction. (Ignore the article’s headline if you can, ugh.)

A Manhattan judge ruled yesterday that a blogger can’t hide behind a web of anonymity while flinging the ugly words “skank” and “ho” at somebody online.
The sternly worded ruling orders Google to give up the identity of an anonymous blogger-assailant who inexplicably devoted an entire blog — titled “Skanks in NYC” — to maligning beautiful blond model Liskula Cohen.

Once Cohen knows the name of her harasser, she can serve them with a defamation suit.
Now, how I feel about anonymous trolls – anonymous misogynists, specifically, is no secret. But Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet has a point: “I am a true child of the Internet and a libertarian at heart, so I’m not all that enthused by the prospect, repugnant as these characters may be.” What could a case like this mean for anonymous bloggers who aren’t harassing creepsters? It’s a tough one – I value the anonymity the Internet gives to people who are using blogging and online activism for progressive ends.
When it comes to the harassment and threats that so many people face online, the answer is clear – there should be some accountability. (And no, before anyone says it: Maligning people, calling women “whores,” and issuing online rape and death threats aren’t “free speech.”) Sometimes that accountability comes in the form of a blogger outing a harasser. Sometimes it means that said harassers will face consequences they never expected.
Most of the time, however, there isn’t any accountability – and the victims of online harassment and threats are left with no recourse except to live with it. I certainly know how that feels – having been the target of harassment ranging from bloggers calling me a slut from the way I looked in an innocuous picture, to rape and death threats in emails, to a website Photoshopping pictures of me to look pornographic. And let me tell you: that shit changes you. It changes your sense of safety, sense of self and any idealism you may have had about people being generally good.
And as I wrote in this 2007 Guardian article, battling online harassment should be part of feminist activism – because often the harassment is based on the same power structures and privileges that allow for real life racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it:

Is this what people are really like? Sexist and violent? Misogynist and racist? Alice Marwick, a postgraduate student in New York studying culture and communication, says: “There’s the disturbing possibility that people are creating online environments purely to express the type of racist, homophobic, or sexist speech that is no longer acceptable in public society, at work, or even at home.”

That doesn’t mean I know what the answer is. The truth is, I really don’t. But I do know that this is something feminists need to keep on their radar, keep talking about, and keeping fighting against. Because online or off – we all deserve to live free from harassment and fear.

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