Meet Junius, the OG of Pseudonymous Trolls

“Sir,” began the letter. The submission of free individuals to the executive power of government is nothing more than compliance with laws they have made. Although the nation’s honour will continue to be maintained overseas and justice at home is fair and impartial, the submission of the subject is voluntary and joyful, almost unlimited.

This letter, according to contemporary standards, would seem unobjectionable. It is also unlikely that it will be noticed. This is a paean for self-governance. This letter was actually published in London on January 21st 1769. Public Advertiser newspaper. King George III was at that time facing resistance in colonies. The letter reminded British citizens of their civil rights and freedoms. Only Junius signed the letter.

Junius’ letters, which are one of the most famous examples of anonymous and pseudonymous speech in England during the eighteenth-century, include Junius.

Henry Sampson Woodfall was the Public Advertiser’s publisher between 1769-1772. He published more than sixty letters to and from Junius, either in the newspaper or in a book. Woodfall printed these letters without revealing the identity Junius. Junius wrote to Woodfall in a private correspondence that he believed Woodfall would need to speak with him. “If this is true, I ask that you be specific and that you also tell me honestly if you are aware or suspicious of who I might be.”

John Mason Good was the editor of a 1812 collection of Junius’s letters. He wrote about the locations Junius requested Woodfall to send letters and how likely it is that Junius employed his own intermediaries in order to protect his identity. Good said that “a number of schemes were invent[ed] and then actually in motion in order to detect him it can’t be doubted,” adding, “but the extreme diligence he at every time displayed, and the honourable forgiveness of Mr. Woodfall allowed him to baffle all efforts, and to continue in his concealment up to the last.”

Junius, in a letter to John Wilkes on September 18, 1771, wrote about the importance of anonymity for his ability to communicate his message. He wrote, “Besides all personal considerations, if my identity were revealed, I would no longer be a useful servant for the public.” I believe that my opinion delivery is at the moment a bit oracular. My words come from an area that no human curiosity could penetrate. Darkness, according to legend, is the source of all things sublime. Junius’ mystery increases his significance.”

Junius was concerned about possible retribution for his strident opinions. Junius wrote a private note to Woodfall asking him to transmit a message to another person, but in Woodfall’s original handwriting, to prevent Junius’s handwriting from being too commonly visible. Junius said, “I must be even more cautious than before.” “It is unlikely that I will survive the discovery for three days. If I did, it would result in me being charged with fraud.” Junius asked Woodfall for a change in the drop off point to their communications.

Junius’ most controversial letter was written to King George III and published December 19, 1769. The letter began with: “Sir. It is the malignancy of your life and the source of all reproach and distress that has attended your government. That you shouldn’t have ever been familiarized with the language truth until you heard about it in your complaints.”

Junius, though not easily identifiable, was identified by Woodfall as the publisher. He was convicted of seditious lying six months later. He was found guilty of publishing and printing only by the jury, prompting him to be retried. However, the jury foreman had destroyed the original newspaper and the judge ended the trial.

Junius could not be identified. There were many theories about the identities of Junius, with Sir Philip Francis being the most popular candidate. He was a member of Parliament. However, it is still not clear what Junius’ identity might be.

We can infer many motivations from Junius for seeking anonymity based on his letters and their impact. These motives are not limited to eighteenth century England; they also apply in modern American disputes regarding online anonymity.

The Legal Motivation to Anonymity is first. Junius may be exposed to criminal or civil liability if he is revealed. Woodfall did not face the same criminal investigation for his publication of letters. He was able to escape this prosecution.

The Safety Motivation is second. Junius might have suffered personal retaliation by being attacked or physically attacked for criticizing certain of the most influential people in England. He may have been harmed by his opponents or his property. Junius was openly honest in his letters, indicating that he had doubts about whether or not he could live unmasked.

The third is the economic motivation. Junius’ occupation could mean that he lost his job, depending on how public he was associated with his writing. Junius could have seen a drop in revenue if he owned his business after the scandal.

Fourth, the privacy motivation. Junius could have wanted to avoid the public eye. Privacy and anonymity are two different concepts. However, privacy and anonymity can be protected and vice-versa. Junius could have wanted to seperate his private and public lives from his statements, as well as the controversy. Junius seemed to view his identity as highly confidential information. Protecting this information might have been necessary to protect his right not to be revealed.

Fifth, the Speech Motivation. The Speech Motivation is the fifth. Junius could have been accused of making arguments because of grudges and personal economic interests by some of his critics. Junius kept his identity a mystery to his readers, forcing them to concentrate on the content of his arguments. Junius also suggested that Junius may have been more popular because of his mystery identity. They might have not had the same appeal if the writings were linked to the names of writers or politicians.

The Power Motivation is sixth. Junius was able to remain anonymous and exert a tremendous amount of influence, which he probably wouldn’t have had if forced to identify himself with the words he spoke. Junius might not have been able to express his opinions against the King and other people if he was not anonymous. Because he was able to speak, Junius used his words to shape public opinion among the most powerful—and dangerous—men in England. Junius was not the only dissident. Anonymity allows them to have power that they would otherwise be unable to.

In the next post, I will explain how this anonymity value was first applied to law that requires authors to divulge their real names.