If you are a blogger, a freelance writer, or anyone who participates in online discussions, you know how annoying anonymous comments can be. These commenters, commonly referred to as “trolls” out here on the Internet, typically hide behind a mask of anonymity and write inflammatory comments on any number of subjects. Now, if one state senator has his way, posting anonymous comments online will be illegal, at least in his home state of Illinois.
The bill, officially named the “Internet Posting Removal Act,” was recently introduced in the Illinois state Senate by Democratic (and apparently thin-skinned) Senator Ira Silverstein. The proposed bill essentially requires that anyone who comments anonymously must reveal their identities or their comments will be removed.
More specifically, the proposal states that a “web site administrator upon request shall remove any comments posted on his or her web site by an anonymous poster unless the 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.”
Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time that government has tried to stamp out Internet trolls. Last year, Arizona’s governor signed into law, House Bill 2549, which was originally aimed at banning Internet trolling altogether, but it was stripped down to protect individuals from online harassment. Around the same time, New York Republicans proposed a similar bill that one Republican assemblyman said would eliminate “mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate.”
The problems with such laws are really insurmountable.
With respect to the proposed Illinois law, one has to wonder… upon whose request shall the administrator remove the comment? Who is responsible for verifying the poster’s personal information? Oh… and, of course, there’s the obvious question… WHO in their right MIND is going to give out their home address when commenting online?
No one and I suppose that’s the point.
While many anti-troll proposals are, according to their sponsors, meant to curb cyber-bullying and online harassment, I’m often left wondering if these bills aren’t self-serving.
I imagine that, like many of his peers, Senator Silverstein has been subject to some pretty harsh online criticism and, like most politicians, he likely doesn’t like criticism.
It’s not just politicians, though. Celebrities, bloggers, writers, and even unwilling subjects of news articles are subjected to online criticism. Hell, anyone with a social media account can fall victim to anonymous criticism.
As a writer, I have been ridiculed, criticized and even threatened by anonymous trolls, but there are better ways to deal with harassment and cyber-bullying than banning anonymous comments online. Hell, in some cases, I actually support trolling.
Look, I’m the type of person that signs his name to what he writes and I accept the consequences, but there are some people that shouldn’t be expected to. Whistle-blowers, victims or anyone who has a legitimate fear of retribution for stating their opinions come to mind.
The bottom line is that everyone has a right to anonymity and the constitution protects anonymous free speech. I guess, in addition to not understanding how the Internet work, Senator Silverstein forgot all about that silly little document.