New York Lawmakers Want Anonymous Comments Banned

A bill before the New York State Assembly would essentially ban anonymous comments on New York-based Web sites.

A bill before the New York State Assembly would essentially ban anonymous comments on New York-based Web sites.

Earlier this week a Wired writer discovered a bill had been introduced this spring in both chambers called the Internet Protection Act. The proposed law would require that a Web site administrator “upon request shall remove any comments posted on his or her Web site by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name and home address are accurate.”

Additionally, “All Web site administrators shall have a contact number or e-mail address posted for such removal requests, clearly visible in any sections where comments are posted.”

The law would apply to anyone who maintains or manages online content, including social networks, blogs, message boards and “any other discussion site where people can hold converstions in the form of posted messages, accessible via a network such as the Internet or a private local area network.”

The bills were introduced in Albany by Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and Senator Thomas O’Mara (R-Big Flats) who, along with supporters, say such a radical step is necessary to reduce cyberbullying.

“Too often, online bullies hide behind their anonymity as they inflict pain. My legislation turns the spotlight on cyber-bullies by forcing them to reveal their identity or have their post removed,”Assembleyman Jim Conte, who represents Long Island’s 10th District, said in a May 10 statement. He also said the law would crack down on rival businesses anonymously posting disparaging comments about a competitor and prevent people from posting mean-spirited and baseless attacks against politicians.

Reaction to Conte’s remarks was fierce, leading the Long Island lawmaker this week to issue another statement through the same site, LIPolitics.com, reiterating the law’s intent.

“Too often we hear news reports about teenagers who have attempted or committed suicide due to anonymous online attacks. … As a father of three teenagers, I decided action needed to be taken in order to protect innocent lives. That is why I supported this bill,” he wrote.

“This bill will not limit free speech, but has been crafted to stop cowards from attacking vulnerable people in hurtful ways. Innocent victims should not be forced to live in fear from anonymous sources who seek to bully and intimidate.”

Murray also defended his bill in a statement sent to the same political Web site. “This is not about policing opinions; this is about empowering the victims of deliberately malicious attacks with the means to preserve their reputation and dignity. Simply put, if you are willing to make hurtful claims about someone, you should own up to it and attach your name.”

So far neither chamber has voted on the bill, but critics believe its passage will swiftly be challenged in courts to determine if the state measure violates free speech guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Several states, including Florida, Montana, Oregon and Texas, have protected anonymous comments on news sites under their shield laws. Meantime, in the last two years many news organizations have migrated to software that prevents anonymous comments, such as linking commenters to a personal Facebook page, as a way to reduce the number of inflammatory and ill-informed contributions to online threads. This, of course, hasn’t prevented people from setting up fake accounts to get past filters.

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