Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New York lawmakers want to ban anonymous online speech

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Sen. Thomas O’Mara (R-NY)
Bill sponsor Sen. Thomas O’Mara (R-NY)

It looks like another few Republican legislators, this time from the state of New York, apparently managed to skip all their high school civics classes that dealt with the First Amendment:

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.”


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.”

I’ve heard of attacks on free speech and the First Amendment before, but this is just ridiculous. (As in literally – no court would do anything other than laugh themselves silly at the idea.) And the so-called reasoning behind it isn’t any better:

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.


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

What is it about the Republican Party that attracts so many thin-skinned numbskulls? Regardless of how bad their poor little feelings may get hurt by all those naughty online posters and their pointy words, the fact remains that anonymity is as much an integral part of free speech as it is a basic Internet right. Much has been written about the importance of online anonymity and the protections and freedoms it grants anyone who wishes to speak their minds freely and openly without the threat of personal or professional persecution. Some of the best and most influential voices for reason, truth and accountability today are only able to speak out because of the assurance that they won’t lose their jobs or personal relationships as a result of voicing their concerns publicly.

Even if the sole intention behind this legislation is to cut down on all those mean attacks, it still doesn’t put the bill’s sponsors in any better light. Add the facts that it’s incredibly unconstitutional and that it smacks of plain ol’ fascism, and you’ve got one bill that’s just waiting to be put out of its misery. It’s enough to wonder why Asm. Conte and O’Mara ever figured that such legislation had even the ghost of a chance in the first place.

And for the obligatory clincher:

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

Fancy that. It’s never about real accountability; it’s always about silencing those who say things the ever-sensitive ruling class doesn’t like. The sooner politicians (and people in general) learn that potty-mouthing is an equal part of free speech, the better.

(via @todayspolitics)