A new bill in Albany is looking to combat cyber bullying by prohibiting Internet users from posting anonymous slanderous comments.
The Internet Protection Act, sponsored by Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) and Senator Thomas O'Mara (R-Big Flats), would force a website administrator 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," upon request. According to the bill, a website would either have to provide a phone number or email address where users could request that false, anonymous comments be removed from the site unless the commenter identify him or herself.
In an age where a simple Google search can detail a person’s entire background, anonymous comments can be a major concern for users. Conte and other supporters of the bill argue that anonymous statements, especially false ones, can essentially destroy an individual’s reputation without the ability to hold the commenter accountable for his or her statements.
Murray explained that the act would not eliminate anonymous comments entirely, but would give victims of personal attacks the ability to challenge accusations.
Assemblyman Jim Conte (R-Huntington Station) expressed his support for the bill, saying that it"turns the spotlight on cyber-bullies by forcing them to reveal their identity or have their post removed."
The bill would also forbid users to post anonymous criticisms of businesses, which Conte said, would cut down on competitors posting negative or false reviews of a rival business.
Conte and Murray both admitted to being cyber-bullied through anonyomous political attacks.
The main criticism of the Internet Protection Act is that it could hinder freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment.
“This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Wired. He said the bill allows a “heckler’s veto to anybody who disagrees with or doesn’t like what an anonymous poster said.”
While the U.S. Constitution prohibits states and Congress from abridging free speech, it does not detail specifics about anonymous statements, nor online comments.
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*Clarifications have been made to this article. An earlier version did not specify that removal of anonymous comments would be based on requests.