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
    Mr bad example (profile), 23 May 2012 @ 5:55pm

    Really?

    "You would think that lawmakers would know this,"

    Really? In an age when most state lawmakers serve no more than 8 years in office thanks to term limits and/or the desire/vanity to rise to higher office, most lawmakers don't know dick...they just have a source of considerable funds to keep getting themselves elected. The days when the lawmakers themselves were knowledgeable about subjects has come to a close, largely because those lawmakers were either failed attorneys, prosecutors, or campaign aides/lobbyists/staff members before being elected...which means they (and their staff, which they re-hire each time they are elected) now rely on paid spin masters in the form of lobbyists to provide the institutional knowledge that once existed in state houses.


    "but apparently their fragile egos can't take people making fun of them online."

    It's my experience in dealing with a large number of politicians over the years I've been alive is that the only group of people with more fragile egos than politicians are teen actors...and some of those teen actors are less spoiled and more mature than many politicians I've met.

    "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."

    I don't find this that amazing at all...it's just an extension of the attitude that tells teachers to teach about the 1st Amendment to the Constitution while a school's administration is allowed to censor the school's newspaper and suspend students for exercising their rights to free speech. Far too many politicians believe that the rules apply to everybody but them.

    Perhaps we should start a grassroots campaign to change state election requirements (much easier to do it state by state than to change the US Constitution) to require that in order to be eligible to run for any office above dogcatcher, one must pass a simple test that demonstrates at least some knowledge of the laws which apply to everyone...but who am I kidding in suggesting that? The same idiots who introduce bills like the one in this article would just game the system so they'd be eligible anyway.

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