Friday, June 01, 2012

Law Would Ban Anonymous Internet Posts

by Ben Glaser

(U.S.A.) Uh oh, another controversial Internet bill has been proposed in the name of “protecting our children.” The Internet Protection Act in New York would pressure those accused of anonymous cyberbullying (on New York-based sites) to identify themselves, reports CNET. But it doesn’t stop there: the bill also targets those who criticize local business or make “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks.”

“The legislation, which I am sponsoring, seeks to combat cyber-bullying by allowing the victim of an anonymous Website posting to request that the post be removed if the anonymous source is unwilling to attach his or her name to it.” writes Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte. He adds that it will help ensure that reviews of local businesses are written by “actual customers,” and that information available about political candidates is more accurate.

Few are convinced that free speech is a reasonable price to pay for accurate reviews of the local pizza joint.

“Had the internet been around in the late 1700s, perhaps the anonymously written Federalist Papers would have to be taken down unless Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay revealed themselves,” writes David Kravets at Wired, echoing a popular criticism.

Unfortunately, Conte is right about a lot of the garbage floating around the internet. The anonymity of social media has inspired some truly disturbing new forms of bullying, and paying for Yelp reviews has quietly become an industry. But while precedents state that certain things like immediate threats of violence are not protected speech, none of the internet comments addressed here seem to meet these standards, and censoring them would be a huge violation of First Amendment rights.

In any event, this won’t leave victims of cyber-harassment totally vulnerable. Laws already exist to help unmask internet users (with the help of ISPs) if another major crime is suspected.

In addition, I don’t think these strategies would actually work. Many people are more than willing to spew the worst kinds of lies and hatred and still sign their name to it. Lies including death panels, birth certificates, and Bank of America bonuses have been passed around proudly by identified internet users.

Ironically, some anti-bullying activists oppose the measure, not just on First Amendment grounds, but for anti-bullying reasons.

“One of the beauties of the Internet is that you can post anonymous comments,” [privacy lawyer and anti-bullying activist Parry] Aftab told CNET. “It allows kids who may be abused to reach out and get help and it enables people with unpopular political views to be heard…”

What do you think? Will this legislation go anywhere?

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