Is Albany's Proposed Anonymous Online Comments Ban 'Mischaracterized?'

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Since Wednesday, we've been following news of pending legislation in Albany that would make illegal anonymous online commenting in certain contexts.

That proposed piece of law would require the removal of any comments posted on a website by an anonymous poster "unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post" if someone complains about that comment.

Assemblyman Dean Murray, who along with State Sen. Thomas O'Mara sponsored the legislation, has taken issue with popular depictions, stating: "Unfortunately, some opponents of this legislation have mischaracterized this bill in an attempt to have it withdrawn. It has been stated that this legislation would ban all anonymous internet postings in New York. That could not be further from the truth."

Yesterday, he told us that the "only statements that would be challenged are not those of opinion, but those that are stated as fact. What we wanted to do was make it so that you're not challenging statements just because you don't like them, but when you're talking about factual statements."

He also pointed to a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case as justification, saying that the First Amendment's free speech provisions don't protect falsehoods.

Earlier, he had told us:

"It absolutely in no way infringes on anyone's rights. They are absolutely free to say whatever they like. However, if the statement is challenged by the target or the victim of those statements, they have two options. They can either identify themselves or put their name to the statement, or the statement will be removed. This is not reinventing the the wheel. This has been the standard letter-to-the-editor policy that has been in place for hundreds of years."

The Voice interviewed a couple of Constitutional law experts for insight.

They certainly seemed to think, however, that the Courts would view this measure as a ban on free speech of sorts and overturn it, saying:

"Even if it's true that there's no Constitutional protection for false statements of facts, a ban on any speech that someone is upset about is quite different...To say that anytime someone is offended that you have to take down an anonymous comment, I don't think that the Supreme Court would take very long to say that's unconstitutional."

And:"The constitution does not talk about websites or anonymity. The cases over the years suggest that the legislature has no business trying to tell editors what to print."

Hm. So, to be perfectly clear, Murray's measure would not ban all online free speech -- which is what we've said. Repeatedly. However, it appears that it would prohibit some forms -- anonymous online comments which have been criticized by their alleged victims -- which still seems a whole lot like a ban.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.


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6 comments
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HoboGreed
HoboGreed

How ironic.The politicians telling the populace they need to tell the truth.

Michijo
Michijo

I have trolled on various forums, like an English forum with a bunch of Germans on it, and there was this mentality the Germans had, that since I was a leftist, I would necessarily in the future become a moderate like Bill Clinton, and that what I wrote would come back to haunt me. It's simply non-sense though. I would put my full name and photograph on every post without care, but strangely it gives me such a vain feeling, that I enjoy being anonymous.

Larry Moore
Larry Moore

Look, my name is Mickey Herbert Rockefeller Mouse the 5th and I DEMAND that you tell me YOUR NAME! AND I MEAN NOW!!!!!

Staten Island Bob
Staten Island Bob

The whole point of the anonymity is to give courage to people who have a lot to lose if their bosses, their future bosses, (or the snooping government), get wind of their true feelings. It has loosened up the discussion and it has allowed at least one aspect of our lives to remain hidden in this privacy-encroaching digital age. If a person is truly using the format to bully someone else than the comment should be removed. But to me, if someone doesn't like the views expressed, retaliate and respond with comments of your own. It's really that simple. Why do we have to over-react to everything?

Michijo
Michijo

How do they know the name you give is your real name?

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