On-line Anonymity, Deindividuation and Freedom of Expression and Privacy

Katherine Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Life brings with it opportunities and risks, as do freedoms, rights and most major advances in civilization and technology. Each is both a blessing and a curse. In all cases it is essential to ascertain the essence of the positive aspect and protect it, knowing that this will always permit some negative or risky elements to survive. So it is with the Internet. In order to preserve the Internet's enormous potential to deliver freedom of expression, it is necessary to accept, or decide how to deal with, the potential harms that arise. The difficulty is always determining where, how and why to draw the line that curtails some expression, or some other right, by criminalizing activities or by blocking or otherwise preventing certain types of speech. This paper discusses one issue, anonymity on the net, and considers why it is so attractive and yet so potentially risky. Whilst mention will be made of legal and human rights elements, the focus is on the sociological and psychological attractions of anonymity. Issues to be addressed include whether anonymity causes unacceptable behaviours; why some use anonymity to gain an advantage, often an unacceptable advantage; and what this might mean for control of the net or other social or legal interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-701
Number of pages15
JournalPenn State Law Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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