Nearly Half the New York Assembly Republicans: Require Deletion of Anonymous Comments Whenever Anyone Complains

Twenty-three of the forty-nine New York Assembly Republicans, plus one Independent and one Democrat, introduced this bill last Fall but just “unveiled” it yesterday:

1. Definitions. As used in this section, the following words and terms shall have the following meanings:

(a) ["]Anonymous poster["] is any individual who posts a message on a web site including social networks, blogs forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.

(b) “Web site administrator” means any person or entity that is responsible for maintaining a web site or managing the content or development of information provided on a web site including social networks, blogs forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages, accessible via a network such as the internet or a private local area network.

2. A web site administrator upon request shall remove any comments posted on his or her web site by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate. All web site administrators shall have a contact number or e-mail address posted for such removal requests, clearly visible in any sections where comments are posted.

It’s not clear what it means to “confirm” that one’s IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate; but at the very least, this bill would require a Web site administrator — me, for instance, if I were found to subject to New York jurisdiction — to remove any comment unless the commenter signs his name to it.

Nor would this be limited to comments that allegedly libel someone, or even insult someone (though that would be bad enough), despite all the talk of preventing cyber-bullying by the bill’s backers. Rather, the law would apply any time anyone makes a “request” that a comment be removed, even if the comment doesn’t mention anyone by name but is simply religiously or politically offensive to the “request[er].” The same would apply to anonymous material added to Wikipedia, if Wikipedia were found to be subject to New York jurisdiction, anonymous videos posted to YouTube, and so on.

The bill is unconstitutional, see Talley v. California (1960) and McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n (1995); the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has held, protects anonymous speech (except in limited conditions related to election campaigns). The proposal is thus a fitting bookend to the four Democratic New York Senators’ paper on, among other things, how “[p]roponents of a more refined First Amendment argue that this freedom should be treated not as a right but as a privilege — a special entitlement granted by the state on a conditional basis that can be revoked if it is ever abused or maltreated,” though more New York Republicans are on board this bandwagon than New York Democrats were on board the other one.

Thanks to Steven Jens for the pointer.

UPDATE: By the way, say that a Web site with tens of thousands of comments gets a batch of demands from a political opponent of the site: “[R]emove any comments posted on [your] web site by an anonymous poster” — defined as “any individual who posts a message on a web site including social networks, blogs forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages” — unless that individual “agrees to attach his or her name to the post and confirms that his or her IP address, legal name, and home address are accurate” (emphasis added). The time and effort it takes to get such “confirm[ation]” from all the commenters, including ones who had signed their names in the first place (recall that “anonymous poster” is defined to mean “any individual who posts a message on a web site,” even if the message is signed with what is ostensibly the poster’s name) might well be prohibitive for many Web site operators, whose only option at that point would be just to delete all the comments.