One of the first stories I read this morning was an article on Wired.com about proposed legislation here in New York that, according to the headline, would "ban anonymous online speech."
The bill, A8688/S6779, has already received plenty of attention, mainly from those who think this is a violation of free speech. Whenever you tread into these waters, it's a sensitive topic.
Here's what we know:
- The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by GOP Assemblyman Dean Murray and in the Senate by state Sen. Tom O'Mara. In the Assembly, the bill has 27 co-sponsors. One of Cayuga County's state Assembly members — Assemblyman Gary Finch — is a co-sponsor.
The bill has no co-sponsors in the Senate.
- Here is a summary of the bill:
Section 1 contains definitions and requires a website administrator, upon request to remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless the anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms his or her address, legal name, and home address are accurate. Also, requires website administrators to have a contact number or email address posted for removal requests, clearly visible in any section where comments are posted.
So, the headline of the Wired.com story isn't necessarily accurate. There isn't an outright ban here. What this bill would do is require administrators, if there is a request to do so, to remove comments posted by anonymous users unless the anonymous poster agrees to disclose their identity.
Based on the justification for the bill, this was proposed as a way to help fight cyberbullying online. For example, if someone posts negative comments about a fellow classmate online, that person could be exposed.
But is it the right approach?
Consider this final paragraph under the bill's justification:
This legislation simply provides a means for the victim of an anonymous posting on a website to request that such post be removed, unless the anonymous poster is willing to attach his or her name to it.
Hypothetical situation: Let's say an elected official isn't happy with a comment on a website. Couldn't he or she request that comment be removed, unless the user who posted said comment reveals their name?
There are plenty of critics of this bill. There's even a Facebook page called, "Stop NY State Bill S6779."
But to be clear, nothing in this bill would put an outright ban in place on anonymous comments.
What do you think? Do you support or oppose this bill?