Who's The Coward? Thin-Skinned NY Politicians Try To Ban Anonymous Comments

from the wow dept

Last fall, we were absolutely amazed at a paper written by some NY state politicians arguing that we have too much free speech, and that we need a "more refined" interpretation of the First Amendment, that outlaws things like "leaving improper messages on online message boards." Well... as covered by Dave Kravets at Wired, some NY state politicians have introduced the same bill, in both houses of the legislature, that would outlaw anonymous speech online. The actual bill is not particularly subtle.

It lays out the purpose front and center:
AN ACT to amend the civil rights law, in relation to protecting a person's right to know who is behind an anonymous internet posting
Most of the "bill" is definitions, but the key part is as follows -- written in all caps like a true internet troll:
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. 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.
This will, of course, never become law (or if it does, would never survive a Constitutional First Amendment challenge). The Supreme Court has been pretty clear:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
You would think that lawmakers would know this, but apparently their fragile egos can't take people making fun of them online.

What's amazing is that the lawmakers behind this seem oblivious to the concerns about the bill, insisting that anonymous posting can only be used for negative reasons."
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. Once a bully is identified, steps can be taken to end the harassment. Bullying is no laughing matter. The more we can do to combat this abuse, the better off we will all be as a society.
That's from Assemblyman Jim Conte, a sponsor of the bill, who should be forced to not only read the details of the McIntyre case, but also to produce a report about the importance of anonymous speech throughout US history, starting with the Federalist Papers and moving forward from there. It's scary that these people who govern us who don't seem to understand what they're talking about.

Oh, and separately, I kicked this post off by mentioning the paper from last year. It's worth noting that these bills are not actually being brought forth by the same politicians. We have a general policy here at Techdirt where we don't mention political parties unless the party itself is key to the story. When we wrote that original comment, someone in the comments accused us of "hiding" the fact that the paper was written by Democrats. As we noted, we would have written it exactly the same way if it were written by Republicans. So, I will point out that the politicians who introduced bill in both houses in NY are... Republicans this time, which I'm only bringing up because of the contrast from last time. This isn't about parties. It's about clueless politicians, and neither mainstream party has a monopoly on (or, even, a shortage of) them.

Filed Under: anonymous comments, first amendment, jim conte, new york


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  1. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 23 May 2012 @ 5:33pm

    Amazing

    I always wonder how ignorant these state politicians must be of the basic workings of the internet to think that any law passed on the state level is somehow going to solve a 'problem' like this. Even if it was actually a problem, no New York law is going to stop it. Does this Conte idiot actually think the state legislature in Albany has jurisdiction outside the state of New York?

    > In addition to banning bully speech and speech critical
    > of business

    ?!?!?

    This fucktard actually thinks it's constitutional to ban speech critical of business? The 'bully speech' bit is bad enough, though a weak argument could be made that it falls under the 'fighting words' exception to the 1st Amendment, but criticizing a business? Really? A frakking 4th-grade Civics class could tell this moron his law is an auto-fail from a constitutional perspective.

    > Conte's bill will make it a crime to post "mean-spirited and
    > baseless political attacks."

    Leaving aside the obvious constitutional question, what is the legal definition of 'mean-spirited', which will have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before a conviction could be obtained?

    > If passed, the legislation will produce a massive
    > chilling effect on political speech in the state.

    No, it won't. It will instantly be declared unconstitutional within moments of someone challenging it in a federal court-- challenges which are surely even now being prepared.

    > The law would require websites to post email addresses for
    > "removal requests, clearly visible in any sections where
    > comments are posted." Those demanding the removal of
    > content they find objectionable, however, would have their
    > anonymity protected.

    Nice double standard there! And apparently these morons are as abjectly ignorant of the Supreme Court decisions protecting anonymous speech as they are the decisions protecting political speech and critical speech.

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