In an interview yesterday on his legislation against anonymous Internet commenters, New York State Sen. Tom O’Mara (R) expressed an openness to address any pitfalls in his bill. “We’ve got a great deal of thinking to do on this issue,” he told me. And when I threw out one practical problem with the effort, he responded, “That’s a good comment, and we should think of ways to deal with that.”
O’Mara should be willing to address many concerns. That’s because this is the regulation he’s talking about:
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.
Here are some riffs on issues that could arise in the implementation of this requirement:
1) Who has standing to complain? O’Mara said yesterday that you have to be the victim or target of the anonymous slime job. Do you have to prove that to the “WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR”?
2) How do you prove to the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR that you’re the aggrieved party? Passport? Driver’s license? Is a library card good enough?
3) What if the anonymous slime job doesn’t slime you by name but just rather by category, as in: People wearing orange shirts today are scumbags and felons. Can I send a photo to the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR showing that I’m wearing an orange shirt and plead for relief?
4) What if the anonymous Web slime doesn’t refer even to a group but rather uses elliptical, coded language that only you and a group of insiders can interpret? Must you then marshal the testimony of these insiders and present it to the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR to prove that the anonymous slime is all over you?
O’Mara says that the take-down requirement would apply to a “false claim or accusation” or language that is “harassing.”
5) What if someone calls you a “scum-sucking maggot”? Will the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR be privileged to classify that as hyperbole, or will the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR conduct a factual test on the matter? In either case, WEB SITE ADMINISTRATORS appear likely to gain some power under this bill.
6) Can the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR take particularly prompt action in favor of the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR’s friends and a relaxed approach for enemies?
7) What happens if the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR is eating lunch? Can the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR finish the tomato bisque soup before adjudicating?
8) If someone writes four comments calling me a stupid, blind shill, does that constitute harassment?
9) What happens if I feel so passionately about Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that I consider false and anonymous Internet attacks on Bill O’Reilly to be attacks on me? Will the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR act on my take-down request?
10) Can the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR slime someone anonymously and get away with it? To whom would the dissed party complain if the anonymous slimer turns out to have been the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR?
11) What if someone writes something that’s false and complimentary? Would the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR spend precious censorship resources deleting such a comment? (Apparently the sponsors want to cover just “libelous and defamatory remarks.” Will all WEB SITE ADMINISTRATORS receive training in libel law?)
12) What if someone wants the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR to take down a bad comment but doesn’t want to divulge any identifying information to the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR because that someone believes the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR is creepy? Can that someone ask for an alternative WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR?
13) What if an aggrieved party calls up a Web site and asks for the WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR, only to be told, “We don’t have a WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR HERE?”
Once O’Mara & Co. tackle these issues, plus many hundred more, the legislation should be ready to sail through the system.