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Brenda Hart Neihouse
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First, libel and slander are very specific instances. If something can be proven true, or is true, it is neither libel nor slander. Second, people who sue other people do not threaten, they act. Third, bullying, in its many glorious and reprehensible forms is not civil discourse. Making statements to get someone else to stop talking is bullying and may be covered by Anti-Slapp statutes (if a lawsuit is filed to get someone to stop talking/engaging in free speech.) I do policy and I do advocacy. I routinely argue for positions that may not seem to make sense to the people with whom I am arguing. (An argument being herein defined as a conversation wherein two or more points of view are argued such that another "side" will see your POV and perhaps embrace it as their own.) It seems to me that if one wishes to effectively argue for any point, that one must actually listen to the other side. In fact, the concept of point and counterpoint leads to listening and adjusting one's approach to include response to the argument put forth. Anonymity takes away the ground or footing of individuals who have the credentials to make the arguments. While branding can suffer if one's employees go off track, employment contracts can easily be forged that manage these contingencies and the choice between staying in a job or getting fired doesn't need to be the exclusive avenue for infractions. Social media is so new that we do not yet have rules about it. Recently a journalist of a major news outlet took his twitter followers with him, prompting an all out legal examination of who owns the twitter/facebook/blog account. Who owns the followers, the likes? A most distressing question is who owns our data, as twitter sells data to outside corporations, but I digress. Employers are going to have to figure this out in tandem with Federal law and the courts. We may need to author new law to not limit free speech for employees. For years, many positions were considered to come with limited free speech; however research and education have not historically been in that category. But public health positions generally do come with an “advocacy pass” – the permission to argue for the point of the agency. About anonymity on the internet. No one is anonymous. As a 20+ year veteran of BBS, IRC, various chat programs, etc. I know this for a fact. If Anonymous can hack the government, we can all be found. I don't think the issue is being anonymous. I believe that the issue is making people accountable and creating a different more beneficial culture online. The VP of Mindspring, which was eaten up by Earthlink, used to code for me. In the early 90's we were discussing the change in online culture from what we experienced a few years earlier to what was happening mid-90's. And that was before Prairie Home Companion on the internet disappeared (pseudonym.) Now, everything is achingly commercial and the culture is likeminded -- I'll take from you and you take from me and that exchange will be enough. We have to decide that it's not enough and make it different. This entails policing ourselves, even if it's not to take that one blithering whack at someone who is just aching for a 2 by 4 to the temple (metaphorically.) It starts with personal responsibility and extends outward. And it does mean standing up for each other, Thank you “Liz whom I do not know” for protecting one of your citizens from abuse. Rethinking and reorganizing is tough. I know. I have done change management most of my life, both in business management consulting and through brand development and deployment. But it is not impossible. It starts with knowledge, like what the legal concepts of libel and slander are comprised of. Only when you have knowledge can you argue a point with someone who is throwing hyperbole and trying to bully their way to being right. Right isn't a political position, and it doesn't come from force. Right comes from a moral standing, in which everyone is respected, including those whose opinions we do not like.
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Mar 16, 2012