The New York State legislature is debating a bill that, if passed, will give recourse to victims of hurtful or derogatory forum comments made by anonymous users on New York-based newspaper, blog, and company websites.
“A web site administrator upon request,” the Internet Protection Act reads, “shall remove any comments posted on his or her web site by an anonymous user unless such poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post…”
With sensitivity to cyberbullying at a high, and the defeat of SOPA and other perceived threats to internet freedom still on the minds of many Americans, accountability and transparency on internet forums will continue to be contentious issues even after this bill is passed or rejected.
One GovLoop blogger, Joe Flood, recently responded, “anonymity is part of the DNA of the Internet.” He asks how the Internet Protection Act would fit within the framework of the First Amendment prohibiting infringement on the freedom of speech.
“It also opens up the door to abuse,” Flood continues. “What if I own a restaurant and don’t like what people are saying about my place on Yelp? I could say that they are bullying me and demand that the bad reviews get removed. This would be a nightmare to administer, given that it only applies to NY companies.”
Others have taken a broader look at the bill, pointing out that online comments made by many anonymous users are akin to spam, often raising topics and gibberish not relevant to the original post. They believe having an avenue to remove such comments might not be such a bad idea.
“I will say that on the various news sites I visit, where “political views” are posted by readers – though much of the time it seems like their views are posted without reading anything, including their own post – those posts accompanied by a sarcastic anonymous handle do tend to be the ones that make extreme claims and comparisons,” writes Mark Hammer, an analyst in the Canadian public sector,
Another supporter of the bill commented that the blogs and newspapers benefit financially from user generated content – such as comments – that drive traffic to their site, and they should therefore be held accountable for maintaining a regulated business environment on the internet.
A vote on the bill is expected to take place within the remaining weeks of this year’s legislative session. In the meantime, this is an issue that is sure to generate a variety of opinions about the future of cyberbullying in New York, and around the country.