Is Albany’s Proposed Anonymous Online Comments Ban ‘Mischaracterized?’


Since Wednesday, we’ve been following news of pending legislation in Albany that would make illegal anonymous online commenting in certain contexts.

That proposed piece of law would require the removal of any comments posted on a website by an anonymous poster “unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post” if someone complains about that comment.

Assemblyman Dean Murray, who along with State Sen. Thomas O’Mara sponsored the legislation, has taken issue with popular depictions, stating: “Unfortunately, some opponents of this legislation have mischaracterized this bill in an attempt to have it withdrawn.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.”

Yesterday, he told us that the “only statements that would be challenged are not those of opinion, but those that are stated as fact. What we wanted to do was make it so that you’re not challenging statements just because you don’t like them, but when you’re talking about factual statements.”

He also pointed to a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case as justification, saying that the First Amendment’s free speech provisions don’t protect falsehoods.

Earlier, he had told us:

“It absolutely in no way infringes on anyone’s rights. They are absolutely free to say whatever they like. However, if the statement is challenged by the target or the victim of those statements, they have two options. They can either identify themselves or put their name to the statement, or the statement will be removed. This is not reinventing the the wheel. This has been the standard letter-to-the-editor policy that has been in place for hundreds of years.”

The Voice interviewed a couple of Constitutional law experts for insight.

They certainly seemed to think, however, that the Courts would view this measure as a ban on free speech of sorts and overturn it, saying:

“Even if it’s true that there’s no Constitutional protection for false statements of facts, a ban on any speech that someone is upset about is quite different…To say that anytime someone is offended that you have to take down an anonymous comment, I don’t think that the Supreme Court would take very long to say that’s unconstitutional.”

And:”The constitution does not talk about websites or anonymity. The cases over the years suggest that the legislature has no business trying to tell editors what to print.”

Hm. So, to be perfectly clear, Murray’s measure would not ban all online free speech — which is what we’ve said. Repeatedly. However, it appears that it would prohibit some forms — anonymous online comments which have been criticized by their alleged victims — which still seems a whole lot like a ban.