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Online anonymity to be focus of Oct. 22 debate

Jillian C. York
October 07, 2013

Experts on topics including cyberbullying, freedom of expression, data security and citizen-based journalism will debate the proposition that “I should have the right to remain anonymous online,” at 6 p.m., Oct. 22 at Arizona State University’s West campus. The 90-minute debate, which will take place in the La Sala Ballroom at 4701 W. Thunderbird Road in Phoenix, is free and open to the public. Visitor parking on campus costs $2 per hour.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their mobile devices; a web application will be used to solicit questions from audience members, who will have the opportunity to submit and vote on questions that they want to be posed to the debaters.

Dan Gillmor and Jillian C. York will argue in favor of the debate’s motion, while Sheri Bauman and Jason Weinstein will argue against it. The moderator is Alexander Halavais, associate professor of sociology in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the core college on the West campus.

“Today, it is harder than ever to remain anonymous online,” Halavais said. “That may be a good thing if you find yourself the victim of bullying or stalking, particularly in the most virulent forms that the Internet provides for. But if you are trying to blow a whistle, or even just express yourself openly without fear of government, corporate or social reprisals, anonymity is a key tool.

“There are no easy solutions here. It’s extremely difficult to credibly claim that anonymity is either always good or always bad, and it is in the complex and contextual application that it gets particularly interesting. And that is also what makes it a good question for debate,” Halavais said.

“We wish to engage students and the community in an informed discussion of important topics,” said Amit Ron, a political science assistant professor in New College’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who chairs the planning committee for the debate. “In doing so, we hope to foster a culture of respectful and informed exchange of opinions on controversial political and social issues.”

The debaters are a journalist, an electronic media expert, a former prosecutor with expertise in cyber crime and an educational psychologist who works on online bullying.

“Each one of them brings one lens through which to approach this question,” Ron said. “But the format, aided by questions from the audience, forces the debaters and the audience to engage the different perspectives. For example, it is very likely that the topic of the debate will force the debaters and the audience to reflect on the meaning of the commonly used concept of ‘rights’ and the distinction between different kinds of rights, including legal, constitutional, moral and natural rights.”

Gillmor, an internationally recognized author and leader in new media and citizen-based journalism, is the founding director of the new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and the Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He had a long career as a journalist for newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News.

York is a writer and an activist. She is the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Her work focuses on free expression, with a focus toward the Arab world. She has written for a variety of media, including Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Foreign Policy and CNN. Having spent a few years living in Morocco and traveling throughout the Middle East and North Africa, York is particularly interested in free expression issues in that region.

Bauman is a professor and the director of the Counseling and Mental Health master’s degree program at the University of Arizona. Prior to earning her doctorate from New Mexico State University in 1999, Bauman worked in public schools for 30 years, 18 of those as a school counselor. She is a licensed psychologist. Bauman is the recipient of two grants from the National Science Foundation, both focused on cyberbullying. She has completed data collection for a three-year longitudinal study of the emergence of cyberbullying from middle childhood to early adolescence.

Weinstein is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where he concentrates his practice on white-collar criminal defense and privacy and data security matters. He previously served for 15 years in the Department of Justice. From 2009 to 2012 Weinstein was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Department’s Criminal Division, where he oversaw the Division’s computer crime and intellectual property programs, as well as its violent crime, organized crime and human rights programs.

Staging a debate on a pertinent societal topic has become a fall tradition for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Last year’s event focused on the proper role of government in reducing economic inequality; it attracted hundreds of attendees.

“The debate has become a hallmark for the school, as it showcases many of the interdisciplinary connections one will find in the fields that comprise the social and behavioral sciences,” said Jeffrey Kassing, the school’s director.

The program was made possible through a grant from the Arizona Humanities Council. Founded in 1973, AHC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and the Arizona affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. AHC supports public programming in the humanities that promotes understanding of human thoughts, actions, creations, and values. AHC works with museums, libraries, and other cultural and educational organizations to bring humanities programs to residents throughout Arizona.

For more information about the Oct. 22 debate, contact Amit Ron at