New York’s Anonymous Comment Ban Would Be for ‘Factual Concerns,’ Not Opinions, Says Author

The author of the Internet Protection Act was never trying to "ban anonymous comments."
dean murray New Yorks Anonymous Comment Ban Would Be for Factual Concerns, Not Opinions, Says Author

Assemb. Murray.

Cue the walkback. New York State Assemblyman Dean Murray just blasted out a statement regarding his proposal to require publishers to remove anonymous comments on the Internet upon request. “Unfortunately, some opponents of this legislation have mischaracterized this bill in an attempt to have it withdrawn,” he said. “It has been stated that this legislation would ban all anonymous internet postings in New York. That could not be further from the truth.”

The story that hit the Internet earlier this week—New York legislators want to ban anonymous commenting!—was slightly oversimplified. Assemb. Murray wants to give victims of cyberbullying a way to confront their detractors or remove nasty things from showing up in their Google results. Assemb. Murray was himself the victim of anonymous commenters who spread rumors that he was abusing his ex-wife and son. Assemb. Murray pointed out that extreme cyberbullying has been linked to teen suicide.

Unfortunately, like many lawmakers, Assemb. Murray and his co-sponsor in the State Senate, Tom O’Mara, don’t completely grasp the way the Internet works. Rebloggers and retweeters decided the bill amounted to a quash on free speech, as anyone could request a takedown. (In the debate, no one mentioned that the rule would place a potentially heavy burden on online publishers—what are we, chopped liver?)

The words “anonymous comment ban” richocheted around Twitter and Reddit as the Interneterati tore the lawmakers apart, causing eyebrows to raise, eyes to roll, and, apparently, inspiring more than a few constituents to pick up the phone.

Assemb. Murray’s full statement clarifying the bill and promising it will be refined:

Over the past few days, there has been a healthy and productive discussion regarding the “Internet Protection Act,” legislation I sponsored to protect victims from libelous and defamatory remarks by anonymous posters.

Countless people have contacted me in support of this anti-bullying measure, with suggestions to improve and strengthen it.

One such change that is being considered is to tighten up the language to clarify exactly who can challenge a statement and under what circumstances that request can be made to the administrator. The intent of the bill is to focus on protecting those being targeted by malicious and false statements, but would only apply to factual concerns, not opinions. This requirement to attach your name to a statement would only apply if the statement is challenged and it can only be challenged based on factual information not opinion. It is the victim, or target of the statement that has to reach out to the administrator.

In the coming weeks, I am hoping to meet with internet providers, web site owners and others in the on-line community to work together on this legislation, and refine it to offer better protection to victims of cyber bullying and other crimes.

The First Amendment is one of our most important rights as Americans, and this bill ensures the protection of that right for those who wish to post opinions and truthful information anonymously. Unfortunately, some opponents of this legislation have mischaracterized this bill in an attempt to have it withdrawn. It has been stated that this legislation would ban all anonymous internet postings in New York. That could not be further from the truth.

When anonymous posters hide behind the internet to commit a crime (such as harassment) or as a vehicle for defamation, innocent men, women and children are openly victimized, and the public is intentionally misled.

This legislation merely asks those making their allegations to attach their name to their comments and claim responsibility, just as journalists and those writing letters to the editor of newspapers do.

I look forward to working with a broad spectrum of groups to improve and strengthen this legislation.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com