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Should Anonymous Comments Be Banned?

A NYS bill sponosred by Assemblyman Dean Murray is looking to stop websites from publishing unidentified responses.

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.

Do you think anonymous commenting should be banned?

*Clarifications have been made to this article. An earlier version did not specify that removal of anonymous comments would be based on requests.

LI Snowbird May 29, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Your right to confront your accuser is a right you have in a criminal court. Know your constitution. Ellie
LI Snowbird May 29, 2012 at 11:47 PM
I thought the republicans were the party of smaller government and less government interference with personal rights. Or do they mean only the rights to make obscene amounts of $$$ and evade taxes if you're rich?
Elaine May 30, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Every person has a constitutional right to leave any comment they would like,but they should have to sign their name. As a business manager I have experienced a client that has bad mouth us every few months on line for 4 years. She refused to pay her bill, so we took her to court and won. She still refused to pay her bill, until the sheriff came to repossess her car. She paid her bill then, but she also made it her goal to try to hurt us the only way she could. Fortunately, we have so many great reviews that she does not effect our scores. People should not be able to hurt ligitamate business or people if that can not defend themselves. If your comments are true then you would feel comfortable signing your name.
Jon Thomas May 30, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Let's remember, America had the first seeds of independence through the publishing of anonymous pamphleteers. Benjamin Franklin published under the name Poor Richard. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay's, Federalist Papers were first published anonymously. The first amendment was added by individuals like these to protect the rights they enjoyed at the nations founding. It shouldn't be trampled on for political correctness.
Joseph LoSchiavo May 30, 2012 at 04:57 AM
Great Points. All around. However, could this bill be in response to the childish comments, that clearly cross the borders of slander. For that reason. I do support Assemblyman Murray's bill. Slander and defamatory anonymous comments have no place in the exchange of ideas in an intelectual debate. Thanks Dean
Still Anon May 30, 2012 at 05:48 AM
It's nobody's business who I am unless I choose to say so, period. You can't have a free flow of information without anonymity. That's why good reporters protect the identity of their sources. That's why the identity of informants are not revealed to the public. That's why no one is looking over your shoulder when you vote. Good websites have moderators who filter out cyber bullying and other crimes. Maybe start there. But don't take away my privilege to speak my mind freely without fear. This bill is the very kind of thing we're trying to help the oppressed overcome. Shame on these lawmakers!
Jo Miller May 30, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Jon thomas, you make an excellent point. This is a difficult question. I do think that on this site and others like it anonymous comments should not be allowed.
Diane A May 30, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Gee, FOX Fraudcasting does all of the above, absent child pornography, and gets away with it ad nauseum. But, this is not a court of law, and if people are so cowardly as to not want people to know what total dumbasses they are, that's their constitutional right to remain anonymous. As much as I hate it that some people find the need to lie like rugs, and accuse others of absolute blather and nonsense, their rights should be protected. Having said that, absolute threats and child pornography are exceptions. That shouldn't trump the rights of everyone else. I voted NO in this poll.
Dennis Dudley May 30, 2012 at 01:21 PM
No they should not be banned, as annoying as they are. they can be a source of "insight". Some people have something valid to say but may be embarassed (sp) so they just put it out there without their name. Just an opinion!!
Dennis Heller May 30, 2012 at 01:21 PM
"I" was "BORN" in Brentwood, Grew up in Patchogue, "I'm" a Grad of Patchogue High- 1963. Yep-50-Yrs-Ago. And in my "OPINION" Anyone worth their Medal should have the (______) Hops-Bah to stand UP for what they "SAY". I spent 23 & 21 Yrs in public service and "TODAY" it's NOTHING but LIE's & FRAUD from the Top Down Starting in the white"HOUSE" & Congress & Senate.....
Still Anon May 30, 2012 at 02:01 PM
It's simply amazing how easily people will give up their rights under the guise of being protected from something until they realize what that right really meant. But at that realization it is sometimes too late. Benjamin Franklin, as you will probably recall, used to publish letters in the New England Courant under the name "Silence Dogood". It allowed him to express things he wouldn't have as easily been able to under his real name. Sometimes an idea is more important than the person it came from.
Joseph LoSchiavo May 30, 2012 at 02:10 PM
"Still Anon". Agree 100%,but when you cross the legal line of slander and defamation, then you give up that right, and should be held accountable...Agree, or disagree???
John T May 30, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Just like the govt. wants to know who owns guns, it's all B.S.. because history show that a free prevents tyranny
John T May 30, 2012 at 03:59 PM
What people with any smarts say as a joke is "if I heard someone say "blah blah blah" so it must be true. I know about 1/2 truths too.......
Dean Murray May 30, 2012 at 04:09 PM
It's unfortunate that the first 3 words ("Upon request shall") were left out when quoting the language of the bill in the story. This left the impression that I'm trying to ban all anonymous posts. That’s not the case. The intent of the bill is to focus on protecting those being targeted by malicious and false statements. The requirement to attach your name to a statement would only apply if the statement is challenged and it can only be challenged based on factual information not opinion. It is the victim, or target of the statement that has to reach out to the administrator. The First Amendment is one of our most important rights as Americans, and this bill ensures the protection of that right for those who wish to post opinions and truthful information anonymously. 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. When anonymous posters hide behind the internet to commit a crime (such as harassment) or as a vehicle for defamation, innocent men, women and children are openly victimized, and the public is intentionally mislead. This legislation merely asks those making their allegations to attach their name to their comments and claim responsibility, just as journalists and those writing letters to the editor of newspapers.
Pat Rabito` May 30, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Pat R As long as the comment is appropriate and specific to the subject I feel it should be allowed to be anonymous. When someone gives their opinion or feeling about a subject it may expose them to ridicule or harm in different ways. However, we should still be allowed to voice an opinion...
Karen Ferb May 30, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Not long ago a Texas jury awarded a couple who'd been repeated defamed on a Web forum $13 million. A judge ordered the forum owner, Topix, to turn over its information on the IP address of the anonymous posters, who had accused the couple of murder, rape, pedophilia, and drug dealing, among other things, completely destroying their lives, forcing them to leave town, and costing the wife her business. This is the kind of defamatory behavior Assemblyman Murray is seeking to end, not all anonymous posting. All the anonymous libelers out there should sit up and take notice of the Texas jury's award. Your anonymity is not protected.
Ben Vitale May 30, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Even the news media often requires anonymity; in such case the authors name is not attached to the article. I have experienced situations where criminals would indeed retaliate against anyone who wrote something that they considered to be derogatory. Our founding fathers required anonymity, and nothing has changed; in some cases anonymity is essential. In light of Karen Ferb's point that the accused has the ability to sue his accuser; I really believe that we currently have a working system. A law that quenched anonymity would cause more problems than it solved; the politicians should have put their efforts into a law suit as opposed to a new law.
Chris Barcelo May 30, 2012 at 09:58 PM
It should never be forgotten that laws made for ones protection can also be used to to confine as well. In these times I think we have to start watching what liberties we're losing in all areas be it economic freedoms, civil liberties, privacy etc. Not that this is the case but think about how Nazi germany happened. Not overnight but by the gradual removal of privacy and circumventions to their constitution. Don't forget a law written today can be misconstrued and used for other reasons by other people in the future, what are we inviting then?
David Kennedy May 30, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Chris, I think you have unknowingly paraphrashed Ben Franklin when he said: "Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security." Still, I do agree there is freedom of speech, and then there crime...Slander and Libel are crimes...where we draw the line between the two is certainly a debate worth having.
anonymous guy May 31, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Simply put - unenforceable. The government should not dictate how someone behaves on a site or how a site owner handles such complaints. This is a government ploy to find a revenue source by exploiting business owners and those that have had children or family/friends that were affected by cyber bullies or trolls. And yes the are exploiting those affected by making this sound like they are trying to protect them when in reality they have no way of protecting them from the words someone can write anonymously.
James Smith June 01, 2012 at 12:11 PM
This bill has nothing to do with Cyber-bullying and has everything to do with protecting Politicians from public criticism. Seriously, when was the last time you had ever seen a high school bully in a comment section on a news site tormenting his classmates? This bill was only raised because somebody posted comments about Assemblyman Dean Murray, accusing him of abusing his ex-wife. Instead of laughing it off as an offhand comment from an unreliable source, they now feel like they have to control what people post on the Internet. The Internet is a valuable resource when average people like ourselves can expose the truth about others in more powerful positions without fear of repercussion. I am sure that this standard will not be held by the pentagon when they overturn the Smith-Mundt act, then what is considered a true statement will truly be selective at best.
James Smith June 01, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Assemblyman Murray, My question to you is, what makes a statement considered true? Does that mean a whisteblower posting to expose corruption in Government and Corporations have to prove their statement to be true in court and fight an army of lawyers before you can post about it? Also revealing your true name can expose one to repercussions and vindictive actions by those more powerful and in possession of far more resources than oneself. If you're true motive is to protect children from Cyberbullies a better way to approach that is to introduce and expedited subpoena process for social networks in those situations. Leave comments on news site alone!
James Smith June 01, 2012 at 12:25 PM
..for example, if I post my real name, I am afraid that I will be visited by IRS, my local town, the police and every other bureaucratic agency on Long Island because I angered a public official and stirred the hornet's nest. I can criticize a local business that can be juiced in with public officials and I can pay the price in that respect. That is why anonymity is important as it levels they playing field.
Dean Murray June 01, 2012 at 06:29 PM
In response to Mr. "Smith"...Where do I begin? The very fact that you think we should be "laughing it off"...when it comes to false allegations of something as serious as domestic violence is disturbing to say the least. Perhaps you also think the 14 year old girl should "laugh it off" when an anonymous coward posts that she is preganant or has an std... do you also think the restaurant owner should just "laugh it off" when an anonymous poster spreads rumors that he has a rat and insect infestation in his kitchen? Do you think the teacher should just "laugh it off" when someone, hiding behind their anonymity, falsely accuses them of having innappropriate relations with their students? You see, Mr. "Smith"... in this day and age, these kinds of examples are happening on a regular basis and I believe we need to start trying to help the "victims" of these attacks instead of finding ways to enable the cowards who grow internet muscles by hiding behind a phony name. I wish with all my heart that we didn't have to try and legislate common decency...but in this case, I think something has to be done. I will not sit idly by as people's lives are being ruined. Rather than tossing around erroneous statements and accusations regarding the intent of the bill...perhaps you could offer up some constructive suggestions on how we could make this proposed bill better and accomplish the goal of protecting innocent victims from these malicious attacks.
jared June 01, 2012 at 07:34 PM
LMAO I administrate a website and this is unenforceable (i don't allow annoymous posts, but i run a music review site so i really only get serious readers/posters anyway). but my problem lies that as a systems administrator, Now I need to spend even more time coding extra "email" forums to provide another table to hold data in my MYSQL database. which honestly, someone can LIE about their email address anyway and still post. how are you going to enforce this..... you can't, its as simple as that. The internet is the wild west, and honestly , oh and what popular websites allow anonymous posts these days...? lol
James Smith June 01, 2012 at 09:20 PM
The fact that the Assemblyman is even replying to a comment section and getting bent out of shape over comments that people post on a local patch article, shows that he buckles under the heat of criticism and actually tries a law to silence his critics while claiming that it's "All About the Children" or "Protecting Victims". The more popular you get the more criticism you will face. How many people posted these "untruths" about Obama being a terrorist, Muslim that hates America or that he is not a US Citizen etc... Has it affected his career? Lamar Smith took a barrage of nasty comments regarding SOPA and he just won the primary by a landslide. Mr. Murray, you need to follow in their footsteps and rise above such petty endeavors.
James Smith June 01, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Assemblyman Murray, sir, please spare me your crocodile tears. First of all, as I said before, where do you see in ANY news comment section a teenager being bullied by his or her classmates or a post about a 14 year old girl being pregnant. Such a statement would not last if it even existed in those type of forums by means of moderation. Comment sections are exactly what they are intended to be - Comments. They are not news articles, or even op-eds. People have a right to express themselves clearly without fear of censorship or reprisal from powerful people such as yourself. When I go to a restaurant for a meal and I am dissatisfied with the service, am I not allowed to make a public statement so that other people can decide whether to take my review seriously or not? Without the protection of anonymity, people will be afraid to speak up and expose the truth when they have to worry about fear of a lawsuit or facing a personal vendetta. Especially when a business can be tied in with public officials, or even worse, organized crime. Not only will the whistleblower be in danger but also their livelihoods and family. With all due respect Assemblyman, you have been exonerated from those assertions about yourself so you shouldn't have to worry about people posting "comments" about it on online news sites. You made the decision to become a public figure and that's a sacrifice you need to make, sir to uphold the 1st Amendment.
James Smith June 01, 2012 at 10:10 PM
There are some other excerpts from your reply that just don't hold water. If somebody is making rumors about a 14 year old girl being pregnant, that is grounds for a lawsuit against site administrator itself, so I am sure that they would have no problems taking the comments down. I also think that it is safe to say that a restaurant's business will hardly be affected over the comments from just one disgruntled patron (or other individual). If there are many, however, one may want to look into how that restaurant operates. If a restaurant gets many positive reviews, I personally as many others would take the negative reviews with a grain of salt. The teacher rumored to have inappropriate relations with their students, will not hold water in court or any with disciplinary actions on the teacher's part without the source being revealed. Again, the teacher can file a lawsuit against the site owners, and I am sure that they will be glad to oblige him or her with the removal of the offending comment if there is nothing to back it up. If you want a suggestion which I am doubtful that you will take, why not pass legislation that allows for an expedited subpoena against somebody making potentially damaging assertions on Social networks sites which is where cyber bullying actually occurs. You see there is already legal recourse to deal with these situations without having to pass legislation that would violate 1st amendment rights.
James Smith June 12, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Even with the supposed "tightening up" of the bill, it's still a violation of free speech. You would still have to hire an army of lawyers to prove that your statement against a powerful, politician corporation or politician is not "false". This bill was only designed to strangle the voice of the common citizen. No Amendment can fix it.

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