Never Read the Comments

Our guest columnists are Jim Conte and Thomas O’Mara of the Great State of New York, who don’t realize that if their bill passes, everybody will sign their name as Jim Conte, Thomas O’Mara, or George Tierney Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina.

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.


Section 1. The civil rights law, is amended by adding a new section 79-O to read as follows:

S 79-O. Anonymous internet poster; right to know.

1. Definitions. As used in this section, the following words and terms shall have the following meanings:

(a) Anonymous poster is any individual who posts a message on a web site including social networks, blogs forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.

(b) “Web site administrator” means any person or entity that is responsible for maintaining a web site or managing the content or development of information provided on a web site including social networks, blogs forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages, accessible via a network such as the internet or a private local area network.

(c) “Internet” means the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet Protocol.

(d) “Internet Protocol address” or “IP address” means a numerical label assigned to each computer or device participating in a computer network that uses the InternetPprotocol for communication.

2. 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.

S 2. This act shall take effect on the ninetieth day after it shall have become a law.

S06779 [New York State Assembly]

New York Legislation Would Ban Anonymous Online Speech [Wired]


Would certainly create a ridiculous scenario: you couldn’t talk shit about a political candidate on a forum anonymously, but you COULD donate millions anonymously to talk shit about them with attack ads. Because, ya know, rich people are freer or something.

Ok, legal eagles, does the right to free speech impart a right to anonymus free speech (sorry about the spelling, it’s early)? It seems to me like it would have to. Having to use my name in some cases would definately abridge my freedom.

Incidently, say a prayer/send good energy my way around 10am PST. I’ll tell you why later.

@Tommmcatt May Just Have Some MJ In His System As Well, So What?: It depends on what you’re saying. All rights, even fundamental ones, can be limited by the state, like time, place and manner restrictions on peaceful protests on state property.

That said, you also can’t go running around saying douchey crap that harms a private person in certain ways–it’s a tort (civil case) and not exactly Con Law, but there’s a bit of overlap because speech is involved. Think defamation and false light.

You can talk shit about public figures with more latitude (we’re in tort land, now), because the public figure has to show that your statement was malicious and you knew it was false. The idea is that a public person has access to a public forum, and therefore a greater ability to defend herself. A private person doesn’t usually have that access, so all they have to show is that your statement was the proximate cause of some harm.

Take it to the Fourth Estate, and you’re back in the Con Law/tort overlap, especially with respect to tabloids. I can’t remember who successfully sued the National Enquirer or whatever, but that was a rarity, because it’s hard for plaintiffs to show malice, and you’re dealing with pseudo press.

Anyway, as long as the speech doesn’t cross a line like terrorist threats or something that involves a gov’t official, I don’t see how it could be prohibited and called a crime. I mean, people write books using pseudonyms, so why should internet comments be any different as long as certain lines aren’t crossed?

Someone might have a civil case if they can prove that someone’s knowingly false anonymous comment caused them harm (economic, intentional infliction of emotional distress–shit like that), and then can try to get a webmaster to disclose their identity, but if it’s not some sort of Napsterish crime, I don’t think the state can regulate opinion. I bet the EFF is looking into this silliness.

Someone please let me know if this is bad info.

Mental candle lit.

@Tommmcatt May Just Have Some MJ In His System As Well, So What?: There’s a long tradition of anonymous comments. For present purposes, we’ll start that tradition with “Publius” — the “author” of the Federalist Papers. (I would have mentioned it, but Wired beat me to it.)

Since newspapers as we know them didn’t really exist at the time, the First Amendment was specifically intended to protect similar political pamphlets — let’s just call them “paper blogs”.

I happen to be the Publisher of this here Establishment, so it’s my (protected) choice whether to allow commenter pseudonyms. But it’s also my legal responsibility. I can be challenged on copyright grounds, I can be challenged for libel — heck, if the guvmint decides one of you is a Mass Murderer, I get the Feds at my door requesting disclosure. (And then I get to decide whether it would be entertaining enough to be a free-speech martyr. Probably Yes, if I can get a book deal out of it.)

The supposed reason for this law is to prevent online bullying via anonymous comments. But I’ll guess that any court would throw that out on a First Amendment challenge — not because it abridges a fundamental right, but it fails to meet the test for abridging a fundamental right: It casts the net too wide, when other remedies may be available.

Add a Comment
Please log in to post a comment