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Should Anonymous Comments Be Banned?

A bill in the state Senate would force commenters to use their name when asked.

A bill in the New York State Senate could limit anonymous comments on websites.

The "Internet Protection Act" would require the web administrator of any New York-based site, including blogs, social networks, online publications and message boards, 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.

Two of the bill's sponsors, Assemb. Dean Murray and Sen. Thomas O'Mara, say the goal is to fight cyberbullying.

What do you think? Does the right to express an opinion anonymously outweigh the rights of others not to feel abused?

Please tell us in the comments. Politely, of course.

Marc Rosen June 07, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Pseudoanonymity is one of the major reasons why the Internet has grown and expanded as much as it has. Take that away, and you'll find people much less willing to interact, and much less free in their interactions, in general.
Marc Rosen June 07, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Besides, plenty of local Patch commentators have been unwilling to give their names. It wouldn't shock me to find out that they oppose this as well.
John Doe June 07, 2012 at 11:12 AM
I won't comment anymore. I won't go on any blog site anymore. I don't give my name because if someone doesn't like one of my comments they can't find me.
maria venuto June 07, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Yes! We've got freedom of speech in this country. Why hide behind anonymous posts? Online discussions seem to be much more civil and productive when people don't hide behind fake identities.
Pazzo June 07, 2012 at 01:22 PM
I agree with Marc Rosen's comment that fewer people will be willing to interact. Many sites require an email address that needs to be verified via email to activate the profile. Anything serious could be traced easily enough. Pseudonyms allow people to express themselves free of stereotyping by ethnicity, gender, etc.
Marc Rosen June 07, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Actually, I prefer using anonymity on most sites, even though I don't need it. I have no less than 30 pseudonyms at my disposal, probably more, that I use on a regular basis. If you include the ones I've retired, I probably have at least 60. Most of them are not attached to a verifiable email address, and for the ones that are tied to an email address, it is an anonymous email address with no ties to my real identity, which I only log into from behind a series of anonymizers and proxies.
Kristina S. Heuser June 07, 2012 at 02:02 PM
I have found that many people prefer to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. Perhaps they own a business that has a government contract or receive some other benefit from the government, and although they may have misgivings or want to voice opposition to government policies or initiatives, their interest in protecting their livelihood outweighs that. Anonymity allows people to speak out without fear of retaliation. It is in all of our interests, I think, that people not be intimidated from speaking out because the free-flow of ideas is important to the public discourse and to the advancement of society. While I personally choose to associate my identity with my comments because I do not believe in living my life in fear or allowing another person to bully or intimidate me, I do not think people should be prohibited from preserving thier anonymity if they so desire. Indeed, we might all still be British colonists if this were the case. Anyone recall Publius and the Federalist Papers?
John June 07, 2012 at 02:08 PM
It's a double edged sword. Cyber bullying must be stopped on it's track and with a little investigation, culprits can be found. On the other hand, anonymous critical posting are necessary to expose especially local governments and/or administrative foulness. The power of underhanded harassment will refrain many if not all from speaking out. Besides any potential anonymous frivolous posting will be rebutted promptly and you know who will read it and go back under his/her rock!
John June 07, 2012 at 02:12 PM
While hunting for my signon to post, you wrote basically my sentiments.....I am not afraid of any individual but am of institutions and yes even in good old USA they can do damage to a citizen.
Kristina S. Heuser June 07, 2012 at 02:23 PM
I agree, John, that it is a double-edged sword. As I was typing my comment I was thinking that it would be nice if those people who have written nasty things to or about me would have had to sign their names to their comments...many probably would not have written the things they did if they had to make their identities known. But, I think you are right, too (and I have experienced it), that other commenters can deter anonymous posters from writing comments that are not helpful to the conversation, and we do not need "the man" to regulate the comments.
Eileen Coles June 07, 2012 at 03:29 PM
People are afraid to post under their own names because the bullying can then come home to them. In a nation that is truly free, NO ONE should have to worry about what they write on the Internet unless it crosses the line of the law: slander, libel or violation of a site's publicly known terms of service. I post under my own name because some of the precious freedoms I swore to protect and defend with my life for everyone in this nation, INCLUDING myself, are freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom to vote; freedom to love and marry whom one wishes to. It came to my attention shortly after establishing my small I.T. business that an anonymous coward was emailing all of my customers and telling them that I support a new, scientific and non-partisan investigation of the 9/11 attacks. Oh please! AS IF this is something to be ashamed of! AS IF this is something I should be afraid to state publicly for fear of losing a job! Political, racial, religious or sexist discrimination enacted where a person works, lives or goes to school that is based on their online presence and the voicing of their opinions is a form bullying that needs to be addressed, because it smacks of living under a totalitarian regime. I will live in fear of NO star chamber, backwater cabal, or self-appointed mafia in this my nation whose freedoms I swore to protect and defend with my life! I will say what I bloody well want on the Internet, and gosh darn the torpedoes to heck! ;-7
Kristina S. Heuser June 07, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Eileen, as the saying goes, "you go, girl!" :)
Mike Bruschini June 07, 2012 at 04:28 PM
It sounds like there is a serious First Amendment issue with this proposed law. Furthermore, how will this law be enforced? What will be the penalties? What if a comment or a website originates from outside the state? Can New York State regulate commenting and hosting (and therefore, commerce) in Hawaii, if a comment is related to something in New York State? How would one define if a site is New York-based? Does this only apply to cyber-bullying of kids, or does it apply to all speech? These are serious questions. On anonymous commenting: Naturally, comments which posters agree to stand behind with their real name and reputation garner more credibility. However, never before in human history have people been able to discuss pressing local issues in such a free manner; you don't have to put your name in the paper under your letter, you don't have to even give your name. If you've got something to say, you can say it, and if it's true, it can become headline news, instantly. Most importantly, you don't have to worry about social or political backlash at all. There have been a lot of good comments by anonymous posters, and I think it's been more beneficial than detrimental.
John Doe June 07, 2012 at 04:50 PM
I believe in free speech, but if I say something to piss off an ethnic group or religion they don't know who I am. If I said I hat e this so and so, I have the right to do it. What I don't want is my famly held accountable for what I say.
Eileen Coles June 07, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I keep reading how people want to honor our war dead and our veterans... how does it honor their sacrifices to live in fear? How does it validate their service to surrender your voice to faceless cowards? Our vets died to give you this freedom, America! USE IT! OR LOSE IT! The land of the FREE and the home of the BRAVE! As for hate speech, that is discrimination and it is against the law for a reason. Nothing wrong with being proud of who you are but this country is for all people and that is what makes it great. Hatred and fear are intertwined. Nothing brave about having to hate on people for being different.
John Cocchiola June 07, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I have a bit of a problem with some of the anonymous, sniping posters that seem very brave when they're using a name other than their own, and I don't like any types of bullies, but that goes for government too. Government is especially good at "bullying", so I'm almost always against giving the Washington DC bullies, or the Albany bullies any more power. It's safer to deal with internet cyber, virtual bullies than the bullies we keep electing and the bureaucratic hacks that they appoint. No internet police thank you.
Martin Carmody June 07, 2012 at 08:06 PM
As I was reading the comments, I thought back to the past election where the snipping and nasty comments from anonymous posters were rife. I would rather see a real name with the comments. I stand by my comments; everyone should have ownership of theirs. Op-Ed pieces in the newspapers require a real name; so too should this forum.
John Cocchiola June 07, 2012 at 08:17 PM
If it's the newspapers or web sites that are making their own policy to require real names, it's fine. If it's government that's setting the policy, it's not fine. I prefer people use their names, but to make it a law is a huge overreach, in my opinion.
Mike Bruschini June 07, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Yes, John, with this proposed state bill and the stalled SOP Act in Congress, the American internet is being targeted by what resembles China-like efforts at state internet censorship, which forces companies like Sina Weibo to self-regulate speech.
Marc Rosen June 07, 2012 at 08:44 PM
The ways that New York can determine jurisdiction over this are as follows, based on existing case law (or so my law profs have briefly mentioned): 1) If one or more of the servers for the website are located within the State of New York 2) If the site has a significant presence in New York (if they have any employees here, deliberately advertise themselves to New Yorkers, offer any kind of goods or services to New Yorkers on a regular basis, or happen to be directly affiliated with another New York-based entity, even if they have no New York presence themselves) 3) If a New Yorker owns,operates, administrates, or is an unpaid staff person on the site (the last one is iffy, and dependent on circumstances that would take too long to explain) 4) If it can otherwise be demonstrated in a court of law that the site, in some way, is sufficiently "part of" New York that it should be subject to New York State law for reasons I haven't covered here
Eileen Coles June 08, 2012 at 02:37 AM
John your point is very valid. Government bullies and stalkers are real, and the Internet has been abused over the last decade to erode the civil liberties of the common citizen. It's one of the reasons I walked away from a very high paying job at an ISP/CLEC in 2006 - because I was being asked to set up warrantless wiretapping on my fellow citizens. During the Cold War it was constantly drilled into our heads that proof that the Soviets had an inferior ideology could be seen in the way they spied on their citizens, so this was a manifestation of hypocrisy and abuse of power that I wanted no part of. Citizens who are concerned about their civil liberties and Internet privacy should familiarize themselves with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF. Another good site is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC. Support these two organizations if you can, as they both work hard to keep people informed about the constantly shifting field of technology and privacy. http://www.eff.org http://www.epic.org Bruce Schneier is a well known IT security expert with balanced, sane perspectives on the subject. Schneier coined the term "security theater" for procedures that don't really solve security problems but invade people's privacy, and also originated the phrase "Refuse to be terrorized." http://www.schneier.com/books.html
Robert Lee June 08, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Agreed, most comments made by users who hide their identity aren't worth reading. I know one thing though, if this policy helps remove spam, I'm all for it.
Eileen Coles June 08, 2012 at 01:57 PM
The irony is that while one part of the government is doing this, another part is doing the exact opposite: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/17/online-persona-management_n_837153.html One reason I turned my comment here on Internet privacy and security into it's own blog post is that I am growing extremely tired of this "Do as we say, not as we do", "Laws are for OTHER people" attitude coming from certain sections of our government.

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