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New York Legislators Propose Ban on Anonymous Online Comments

In a blow to advocates of online free speech, lawmakers of both chambers of the state of New York have proposed legislation to require Empire State-based websites, such as news sites and blogs, to delete any anonymous comments unless users agree to disclose their identities on the posts.

The bills A.8688 and S.6779, introduced by Republicans Dean Murray and Thomas O’Mara, would require websites such as PolicyMic and the New York Times, to provide a toll-free phone number or e-mail address for the public to use to file complaints about "malicious" anonymous comments.

The idea is that the news outlet would then contact the alleged anonymous offender who would then be given a 48-hour window to identify herself as the author of the anonymous post, with administrators deleting the comment if the user fails to do so.

Here’s the actual quote:

2. A WEBSITE ADMINISTRATOR UPON REQUEST SHALL REMOVE ANY COMMENTS POSTED ON HIS OR HER WEB SITE SITE BY ANY ANONIMOUS 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. AL 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.6779

The proposed legislation is yet another attempy by American lawmakers to understand and control the Internet, an entity they see as a “wild west” where almost “anything goes,” as New York Assemblyman Peter Lopez (R) told The Legislative Gazette, adding that “a resource that is so beneficial” ought to be “used propertly.”

Though lawmakers say they want to bring more accountability to the Internet, such as Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte who claims the measure seeks to combat cyber bullying and prevent “mean spirited” political commentary, others see the proposed legislation as an affront to the First Amendment as well as a violation of privacy as disclosing one’s legal name and address would leave online users open to retaliation.

“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, providing a “heckler’s veto" to anybody who disagrees with a particular anonymous poster. 

The proposed measure mirrors a Virginia judge’s recent decision declaring the popular Facebook “like” button as an unprotected form of speech, in the wake of the firing of public employees who “liked” the Facebook page of one of their boss’ political opponents. 

It also flies in the face of Americans who are concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling which permits unions and corporations to donate unlimited amounts to political campaigns without having to disclose their identity, while New York residents would have no right to express their opinions online in an anonymous manner.

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