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Anonymous comments? Dean Del Mastro's right: There oughtta be a law!

Dean Del Mastro

It's hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for Dean Del Mastro, the Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Peterborough, who informed us the other day that there oughtta be a law about anonymous comments on the Internet.

Who among us hasn't felt the sting of the Anonymous Brigade on Twitter, Facebook and in the comments sections of myriad blogs and online newspapers? Just try to "censor" some Sun News Network bloviator's on-air ejaculations and watch what happens to your blog's comments section!

"One of the best ways to end on-line and electronic bullying, libel and slander would be to force people posting hurtful comments to properly identify themselves," Del Mastro (or some anonymous political sluggo toiling away in his constituency office) wrote last week on his Facebook account.

"This morning I read comments on a news story posted on an electronic news publication, many of them could only be described as hateful rants. The common denominator is that none of them identified the person that wrote them; this strikes me as something that Parliament should address," said Del Mastro, who according to his official webpage "will be fully exonerated." (What that's all about, Del Mastro explained on his MP page, is that Elections Canada is just following up "on false complaints from a disgruntled former supplier who sued me unsuccessfully." So, enough said about that, anonymously or otherwise.)

Well, I for one kind of agree with Del Mastro's views on Internet anonymity, although it prompted a storm of snotty 140 character protests, many of them sorta, semi, somewhat anonymous. At least, I agree that it would be a better world in most ways if we would all just identify ourselves with our actual names when we wanted to say something rude about a powerful politician, businessman or corporation.

But then, we might want to amend some provincial Defamation Acts, like the ones in 10 of our provinces, so that Canadians actually enjoyed their Charter guarantee of free expression without the risk of SLAPP suits by powerful individuals and corporations with extremely well-financed chips on their metaphorical shoulders.

And even so, would be pretty hard to enforce given the ease with which false identities, fake identities, satirical identities and multiple online personalities can be ginned up on the Internet nowadays -- a capability for which, as fans of the market like Del Mastro would have to admit, there's a market.

But what really got me wondering about Del Mastro's commentary was whether he cleared it through the Prime Minister's Office. I mean, isn't Stephen Harper's PMO the sinister agency pulling the strings attached to what has come to be known (here, anyway) as the Tory Online Rage Machine?

And doesn't the TORM, more to the point, depend on the anonymity of its legion of identities to be effective -- if only because on most nights the vast majority of its thousands of defamatory, offensive and often profane observations are composed by the same five or six pimply faced adolescent Conservative Party operatives sitting in their underwear at their computers in their basement bedrooms in their moms’ houses?

You know, the kind of anonymous heroes who labelled the late Jack Layton "Taliban Jack" for having the temerity to suggest that the so-called NATO coalition should open lines of communication with the Taliban, something that the Conservative government of the day rejected as unconscionable although the same Conservative government is prepared to consider it.

Layton has passed on, but those of us who admired him are still waiting for the apology.

Who can forget the notorious Craigslist advertisement a few weeks before the last federal election from "a social media organization working for a political organization" looking for "a team of writers who will post to newspaper comments, media forums, FB pages, etc. We are NOT officially affiliated with the Harper campaign." (The italics are mine.)

"Your writing must be right-wing, strong and use supplied talking points," the ad said. "You are creating an on-line persona with a consistent tone. Ideally, you can make up facts and statistics to stir controversy. Where suited, humour, sarcasm and personal insults are welcome."

"To apply," continued the ad, which did not mention who would supply the talking points, "submit a 100 word post based on the headline 'Ignatieff promises no coalition after election.'" That would be a reference to Michael Ignatieff, a now-forgotten pre-Justin-Trudeau leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Whatever, I think all reasonable Canadians could get behind Del Mastro's effort to ensure these opinionated multiple personalities -- who, we must remember, are NOT associated with any Harper campaigns, post or future -- are required by law to identify themselves.

But will Del Mastro's former pals and patrons in the Harper Election Machine? That remains to be seen. Don't hold your breath.

This post also appears on Davcid Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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