Here is a clear-cut example of not really thinking things through very carefully – Republicans in the New York State Assembly have proposed legislation that would ban online comments made anonymously.
As a blogger, I can’t tell you how infuriating it is sometimes to watch people make nasty, ill-informed comments under the guise of being anonymous. It allows people to say things and stoop to levels they wouldn’t normally go, because they are protected by the lack of identification.
That said, this proposal has one law professor referring to it as “clearly unconstitutional”, a violation of speech protected under the First Amendment. Thomas O’Mara, the Republican sponsor of the bill, told the Daily Caller that “he had not initially considered that the legislation might ban First Amendment-protected speech.”
He wasn’t the only one however, as Assemblyman Jim Conte wrote a release which urged his colleagues to “promote the Internet Protection Act (A.8688/S.6779)” because it will combat cyber-bullying, crack down on anonymous criticism of local businesses, and “cut down on the types of mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate…”
Additionally, the Daily Caller report indicates that nearly half of the Republicans in the Assembly have supported the legislation.
Ohara explained, “I certainly didn’t introduce the legislation with the thought that it was violative of the First Amendment. We’re certainly looking forward to any and all input.”
The input is this – the legislation is a violation of free speech. The cyber-bullying works both ways. Not allowing some instances in which readers can post comments anonymously could lead to them being harassed by the owner of the site or others who post online. When you run a site that allows for commenting, you’re assuming the risk involved.
Wired.com adds that the measures have yet to be voted on but, “unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.”
They also humorously note the following:
Had the Internet been around in the late 1700s, perhaps the anonymously written Federalist Papers would have had to be taken down unless Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay revealed themselves.
The anonymous comment legislation is a clear example of over-legislating by lawmakers in New York. Sadly, it was just a couple of weeks ago that judges in the state were ruling that merely viewing child pornography online did not constitute a crime.
No crime for child porn, but a proposed fine for commenting anonymously… Republicans in the Assembly need to redirect their efforts to items of import.