New York State Lawmakers Look at Banning Anonymous Web Comments

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Last year, BW wrote about some European newspapers beginning to eliminate anonymous online comments for fear of their websites becoming forums for hate speech.

But in America, things went a slightly different direction, especially at gawker.com, which doubled down on its anonymity in order to better protect whistleblowers.

And while those who read Gawker might be scratching their heads and wondering what whistles are actually being blown on the site—other than the toots constantly coming from their own horns—it soon might not matter.

A bill introduced into the New York State Senate this week aims "to amend the civil rights law, in relation to protecting a person's right to know who is behind an anonymous Internet posting."

In short, no more Web anonymity.

From an article in Wired:

Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte said the legislation would cut down on “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks” and “turns the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identity.”

“This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology. He added that the legislation provides a “heckler’s veto to anybody who disagrees with or doesn’t like what an anonymous poster said.”

Sen. Thomas O’Mara, a Republican who is also sponsoring the measure, said it would “help lend some accountability to the Internet age.”

While Idaho does not face similar legislation, a conflict over this very issue is brewing locally. Tina Jacobson, the chair of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, recently filed suit against an anonymous commenter on the Spokane Spokesman-Review's Huckleberries blog alleging libel.

However, even if the law passes in New York, it is certain to face constitutional challenges.

More about the motivations of the senators sponsoring the bill can be read in an article on The Village Voice's website.

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