NY Internet Protection Act Seeks to Ban Anonymous Commenting
New York State recently proposed a law that aims to ban anonymous commenting in an effort to combat the increasing threat of cyberbullying. Our editorial team contributors, Vickie Bates and Steven Groves have taken the Pro and Con positions to open discussion about this bill and its impacts.
Here's a video with New York State Senator Tom O'Mara discussing the proposed "Internet Protection Act,"
PRO: NY Internet Protection Act by Steven Groves
The law being debated in New York, attempting to declare an anonymous comment posted on a blog as ‘illegal’ is one of the most asinine things I’ve ever heard, but then again it is an election year. The fact that they are even debating such a measure shows how little the leadership of the country understands what’s actually happening to free and open interpersonal communications on a global scale via the Internet.
Debating it nonetheless they are and in the spirit of a rousing debate, I am here to present the ‘Pro’ side of the argument - not because I agree with it, but because I said I could and in my mind, the capability to see, understand and discuss the ideas and opinions of others helps us all better understand and better frame the debate between the opposing opinions. That’s my disclaimer, now on to the debate.
Aside from that pesky 1st amendment thingy, anonymous flaming posts are the last haven of the inane troll. They are never credible in the discussion and if you don’t want to be associated with what you’ve written & posted, why post it?! Whose words were they anyway?
One of the aspects of being involved in social media is the ability to have a real conversation with real people independent of time and geographic location - it’s truly amazing. It begins with the understanding that there are real people on the other side of the keyboard. So I, as ‘Steven.Groves’, want to connect with real people and I’m not looking to have an interaction with ‘PuppyChow1980’ - I want the person on the other side of the keyboard. The online persona extends well past the edges of the single conversation and the boundaries of the online world, if you expect to be taken seriously.
Your opinion, how you came to your position in the discussion and the willingness to take positive and negative input on your commentary, without losing the ability for civil discourse, is a part of the web experience or should be. It is not a tenant of the web to be able to have open and transparent conversation? I think we expect them to occur between real people though. The anonymous commentator has none of that.
Keep the interactions real, keep them honest and let’s make the web a place where people can have genuine conversations - without the flaming trolls.
CON: NY Internet Protection Act by Vickie Bates
We are stuck, occasionally, with egregious examples of the freedoms granted by the First Amendment – whether it’s the National Socialist party marching down Main Street, the anti-gay members of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrating at the funerals of fallen soldiers, or cyberbullying. The Bill of Rights and the courts protect what many would consider negative speech because making judgments about which types of speech should be allowed is a slippery slope.
Speech that doesn’t lock-step with a majority viewpoint is still protected speech.
Some New York politicians apparently don’t see it that way. After being cyberbullied during his re-election campaign, Assemblyman Dean Murray now wants to ban anonymous comments on websites all over the state. Not derogatory comments. Not hate speech. All anonymous comments.
It’s an opinion that, thanks to the First Amendment, Murray and the co-sponsors of the Internet Protection Act have the freedom to discuss, write about, broadcast and post online (anonymously or otherwise) wherever they see fit.
The political pamphlets of the 18th century were as downright inflammatory as anything on Facebook today, yet the first U.S. Congress granted them protection by law. Those statesmen recognized that the greater danger lies in not protecting speech rather than legislating an arbitrary concept like offensiveness.
When you walk that slippery slope, you risk destroying the balance the Founding Fathers wanted to establish: politicians wield great power; citizens and the press have the right to criticize them.
The Internet Protection Act is also aimed at people who say negative things about businesses while remaining cloaked in the shadows of cyberspace. Corporations, too, have a lot of power and money and lawyers. Enough to intimidate someone, like a whistleblower, into staying silent about wrongdoing, unless they can bring their case without fear of reprisals. A company might call such statements “derogatory” or “offensive.” The courts say otherwise.
The desire for more civil discourse on the Internet and in social media is shared by many who use these platforms. It would be a wonderful world if teenagers didn’t feel threatened or ridiculed by bullies who hide behind fake social media accounts, but I think most kids (and adults and politicians) would tell you that cyberbullying feels just as offensive when you know who the perpetrator is.
I’m convinced we’ll get to that place where we’re guided by respect for others in our online interactions. It’s just the nature of a democratic society that it takes longer to get there because change happens through education and understanding. But, try to codify civility, and you wind up treading on essential liberties.
Are you convinced banning anonymous commenting will elimintate cyberbullying or is this just another politician developing laws without knowledge of how the Internet and technology work?
To read the proposed New York State bill in its entirety visit here.
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