Meet Junius, the OG of Pseudonymous Trolls

The letter started with “Sir.” The submission of free individuals to the executive power of government is nothing more than compliance with laws they have made. The national honor is maintained at all costs, while justice in the home is administered impartially, but the subjects’ obedience will be voluntary and cheerful.

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

Junius’s letters were one of the most famous examples of anonymous and pseudonymous speech in England during the eighteenth centuries.

Henry Sampson Woodfall, Public Advertiser publisher from 1769 to 1772 would publish more than 60 letters between Junius and the newspaper. Woodfall printed these letters without revealing the identity Junius. Junius sent Woodfall a private note in which he suggested that Woodfall might need to contact him. If that is the case, Junius wrote to Woodfall asking for specificity. He also asked that Woodfall tell him candidly if he knows or suspects who he is.

John Mason Good wrote in 1812 about Junius asking Woodfall, among others, to mail letters. It also revealed the possibility that Junius may have used intermediaries to keep his identity secret. 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 his extreme vigilance and the humble forbearance shown by Mr. Woodfall allowed him to baffle all efforts and persevere in concealment to their 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. Junius wrote that “besides every personal consideration” he also stated, “If I was known, I couldn’t no longer serve 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. His importance is increased by the mystery surrounding Junius.

Junius also feared he would be retaliated for his outspoken views. Junius requested Woodfall in a private correspondence to write a message for him. However, Junius wanted Woodfall to sign the message and not use Junius’s handwriting. 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 by them.” Junius asked Woodfall for a change in the drop off point to their communications.

Junius wrote the most controversial letter to the King on December 19, 1769. It read: “Sir. This is the misfortune in your life, and was originally the cause for every reproach, distress, which has followed your government’s rule, that you should never ever have become familiar with the language and truth of truth until it came up in the complaints of the people.”

Junius, though not easily identifiable, was identified by Woodfall as the publisher. He was convicted of seditious lying six months later. A jury found him guilty of only printing and publishing, prompting the judge to call for a fresh trial. Judge ended the trial because the jury foreman had destroyed the original copy.

Junius could not be identified. Numerous people speculated about possible identities for the writer. The most frequent candidate was Sir Philip Francis who is a Member of Parliament. However, it is still not clear what Junius’ identity might be.

Given Junius’s letters and the effect they had on others, it is possible to deduce many reasons why he sought anonymity. These motives are not limited to eighteen-century England; they also apply in modern American disputes regarding online anonymity.

The first is the Legal Motivation. 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 could have been subject to personal retaliation for his criticisms of some of England’s most powerful citizens. His family and property may have been destroyed by his adversaries. Junius wrote private letters to suggest that he was unsure if he would survive without being identified.

The third is the economic motivation. Junius could have been fired depending on what his profession was if he had been associated publicly with writing. Junius may have experienced a decrease in sales if his company was involved in the scandal.

The Privacy Motivation is fourth. Junius could have wanted to avoid the public eye. Although privacy and anonymity are distinct concepts, protecting privacy may help protect anonymity. Junius might have desired to keep his private life separate from the public comments and controversy surrounding him. Junius may have considered his identity highly private and that protecting it was essential for his rights to remain anonymous.

The Speech Motivation is fifth. The Speech Motivation is the fifth. Junius may have been accused by his adversaries of using his arguments to justify their own economic or political agendas. Junius made it difficult for his readers to see the truth of his arguments by keeping his pseudonym. 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.

Sixth, the Power Motivation. Junius’ anonymity allowed him to have a powerful influence that was impossible if he had to reveal his identity. Junius would have struggled to voice his opinion against the king or other leaders if Junius had not been 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, like many others dissidents found anonymity gives them power they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Next, we’ll examine the Supreme Court’s first application of anonymity values in laws that require authors to reveal their true names.