May 24

- New York Legislation Would Ban Anonymous Online Speech (Wired, May 22, 2012):

Did you hear the one about the New York state lawmakers who forgot about the First Amendment in the name of combating cyberbullying and “baseless political attacks”?

Proposed legislation in both chambers would require New York-based websites, such as blogs and newspapers, to “remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post.”

No votes on the measures have been taken. But unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte said the legislation would cut down on “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks” and “turns the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identity.”

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.

“This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology. He added that the legislation provides a “heckler’s veto to anybody who disagrees with or doesn’t like what an anonymous poster said.”

Sen. Thomas O’Mara, a Republican who is also sponsoring the measure, said it would “help lend some accountability to the internet age.”

A cynic, however, might see an attempt by lawmakers to prop up Facebook’s falling stock price via an implicit endorsement of the Facebook model of identity on the internet.

The Senate and Assembly measures, which are identical, cover messages on social networks, blogs, message boards or “any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.”

The bills also demand those sites to have a contact number or e-mail address posted for “such removal requests, clearly visible in any sections where comments are posted.”

Oddly, the bill has no identification requirement for those who request the takedown of anonymous content.

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