A new bill in Albany is looking to combat cyberbullying by prohibiting Internet users from posting anonymous defamatory 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 e-mail address where users could ask to have false, anonymous comments be removed from the site unless the commenter identifies him or herself.
Murray explained anonymous opinion-based responses would still be allowed, but potentially libelous statements would require user identification, if requested.
Assemblyman Jim Conte (R-Huntington Station) expressed his support for the bill, saying it "turns the spotlight on cyberbullies by forcing them to reveal their identities or have their posts removed."
In an age where a simple Google search could detail a person’s entire background, anonymous comments could be a major concern for users. Conte and other supporters of the bill argue anonymous statements, especially false ones, could essentially destroy an individual’s reputation without the ability to hold the commenter accountable for his or her statements.
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 cyberbullied through anonyomous political attacks.
The main criticism of the Internet Protection Act is 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 doesn't detail specifics about anonymous statements, nor online comments.
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