Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Domain Confusion and Anonymous Blogging

Well this is interesting...

At least four Internet domain names that potential DFL gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates might like to have, including Attorney General Mike Hatch and Patty Wetterling, have been purchased by a blogger to direct visitors to a weblog critical of Minnesota Democrats.
It's also a little weird and amusing because in the next paragraph:

The websites -- including www.mikehatchforgovernor.com and www.wetterlingforsenate.com -- are registered to Domains by Proxy, an Arizona-based company that acts as a front for people who want to shield their website registration information from the public.
They provide links redirecting traffic to the website in question, so we know they know how to do that kind of thing. But no links to anything else... like Domains by Proxy, Attorney General Mike Hatch, Wetterling for Congress, DFL, etc. etc. You get the idea. Baby steps I suppose.

Anyway, the website in question is one I read regularly: Minnesota Democrats Exposed. That's where I found out about this incidentally. And as usual, the story broke there before the Strib printed it.

There are several posts there on the matter, including an explanation of motive, and a defense of his right to publish anonymously.

I have mixed feelings about the domain registration. I know the practice happens - as MDE points out the DFL itself isn't lilly white in this area either. Surprising to no one, the Strib didn't find that newsworthy.

Still, I'd prefer neither side engaged in this kind of thing. I suspect any benefit in gaining traffic is counter-balanced by offending people who arrive there by accident and aren't happy with the slight of hand.

That being said, the attack on his right to publish anonymously is disturbing. I would think that especially in the area of political speech, this was recognized as essential. Anyone ever hear of The Federalist Papers?

Newspapers themselves constantly defend their right to protect the identity of their sources, for the obvious reason that those sources might be subject to retribution if their identity was known. Our secret-ballot voting system is based on the idea that you should not have to publicly expose your political preferences to have a right to participate in our political system.

From the left, Flash has his own thoughts on the matter.


Blogger Gary Matthew Miller said...

I think you answered your own question re: Federalist Papers. Liberal judges systematically prove they have not read "Publius" every time they render a decision.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Flash said...

As stated on this website (http://www.crf-usa.org/Foundation_docs/ Foundation_lesson_fedpapers) ""The essays had an immediate impact on the ratification debate in New York and in the other states. The demand for reprints was so great that one New York newspaper publisher printed the essays together in two volumes entitled The Federalist, A Collection of Essays, written in favor of the New Constitution, By a Citizen of New York. By this time the identity of "Publius," never a well-kept secret, was pretty well known."" So the fact that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were behind the writings was relative common knowledge, even while the pages were being distributed. The 'Publius' analogy is more related to a Powerline like situation that publishes under handles even though their true identities are 'common knowledge'

To me, this issue goes beyond 'free speech' rights when someone anonymously grabs domains and other marketing tools for the sole purpose of self promotion. I will defend anyones right to speak their mind, and do it anonymously if they choose, but there is a line there somewhere, and I believe they have crossed it when they turned it into a marketing game.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Doug said...


Point taken re: The Federalist Papers. But there are other examples where true anonymity was necessary to protect political speech.

I don't think we're on radically different pages here. I noticed that you defended his right to anonymous speech in your own post, even though you didn't agree with the way he's using it. That's fair. And I don't agree with the domain squatting, as I said in my post. But I'm not sure I see anything particularly scandalous about it in this instance as opposed to others.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flash is mistaken when he says that the identity of Publius was well known at the time of the publication of The Federalist (or at least the point is disputed by historians). In his introduction to the 1961 Mentor Books edition of The Federalist Papers, Cornell Professor Clinton Rossiter wrote:

“Throughout the long months during which The Federalist was running in the New York newspapers, and indeed several years after publication of the collected essays, the identity of Publius was a well-guarded secret. This mask of anonymity, put on by the authors for sound political purposes, made it possible for Hamilton, in a note written just before his death and discovered just after, to lay claim to a full sixty-three numbers of The Federalist, some of which very plainly belonged to Madison.”

The reason for the anonymity was the hope that it would reduce ad hominen attacks on the authors and instead focus debate on the arguments themselves. Nevertheless, the anti-federalists figured that Hamilton, the most ardent of the New York federalists, was behind the essays and attacked the papers as the work of that royalist Hamilton. The anti-federalists guessed Publius’s identity more or less correctly, but, unlike Power Line, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay never admitted their authorship until some years later.

10:18 PM  

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