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Free speech requires the right of response

September 28, 2010

Does freedom of speech entitle you to anonymously criticise others? Here in Australia, there’s a lot of noise being generated yesterday and today about the naming and shaming of the political blogger behind the ‘Grog’s Gamut’ site.

Basically, an Australian public servant has been privately blogging about political issues not related to his own responsibilities (therefore not voiding his employment with the Australian Government), to the point where the publicly funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) actually modified the way in which they covered the recent Australian election campaign.

When his identity was exposed by James Massola of The Australian newspaper, the author launched a passionate defence of his right to blog anonymously.

Regardless of your right to free speech however, the right of response can be just as important. It’s what encourages healthy debate and therefore democracy- a word which in its Greek origins means ‘rule of the people’, not ‘rule of the individual who happens to have an opinion’.

The reality is, that if you write something with the intention of influencing others, the person on the receiving end wants to know who is communicating with them.

Isn’t that why all political advertising (in Australia, at least) has to clearly state the name of the person funding and endorsing the message? In fact, if it wasn’t for this statement at the end of the recent ad campaign denouncing plain cigarette packaging – I would have thought it was the retailers suggesting we were cutting a hole in their business by forcing them to do it. But no – now that I know who’s saying it, I now clearly understand that cigarette companies are afraid of the legislation, and that confirmation alone helped me decide that not as sympathetic to the retailer, otherwise they’d be the ones paying for the ad campaign.

Now Grog’s Gamut is a completely legitimate and reasonable blogger – I’ve read it before; BUT ask yourself whether you would accept the opinion of people in the following circumstances:

  • A dishevelled looking person, unshaven and in plain clothes comes up to you in the bank and says if you give him your bank details, he’ll complete the transaction for you while you continue your shopping.
  • In the same bank, a person in a competitor’s bank uniform comes up to you and says they can complete the transaction for you at a much better rate and immediately if you go next door with them and then provide your bank details.
  • A person in your own bank’s uniform comes up to you and apologises for the wait, but that someone will be with you shortly to complete the transaction.

The examples above are less about freedom of speech and more about how your opinion would change if you have the opportunities to make some informed judgements about the person(s) communicating to you.

At the end of the day, communication is a two way street. We receive a message in some form, and in order to understand it, we need the ability to feed back in the form of questions, understanding motivations, and so on. This is the basic process of how we make everyday decisions.

Finally, let’s apply this to the digital media world on which this blogger has more expertise. The things that we in digital and social media know for sure are that what resonates with with consumers, publishers and developers alike are:

If you’ve read my blog before, you may start to think I’m sounding like a broken record, but let’s clear this up once and for all:

If I trust you or your brand, your opinion means more to me. If I don’t know who you are, your opinion probably means little.

I doubt I’m much different to anyone you’re trying to influence with your communication today.

By the way – my name is John, I’m not anonymous, and you can find me on Twitter at or click on the links on the right of this page. I’d love to hear what you think about whether bloggers should be anonymous or not.

(Deliriant isti Romani – These Romans are crazy!)


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One Comment
  1. They had the right of response. Just as i have no idea who you are, but am responding to you here. They could also respond openly to his criticism on their news broadcasts, or in their print media.

    What they didnt have the right to do was break his confidentiality. No matter how you cut it. It was wrong

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