Posted February 21, 2013 12:15 pm by with 3 comments

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Take off the maskNot like there aren’t about a million different ways to approach this kind of story but let’s first look at the basics.

In Illinois, state senator Ira Silverstein (D) has put forth a bill that would require anonymous commenters online to reveal their identity if they want their comments to remain online. The Daily Caller reports

A recently introduced bill in the Illinois state Senate would require anonymous website comment posters to reveal their identities if they want to keep their comments online.

The bill, called the Internet Posting Removal Act, is sponsored by Illinois state Sen. Ira Silverstein. It 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.”

Anonymity online has been a foundational principle from the get-go but has come under attack from time to time. On a personal note (and I realize that I run counter to most Internet types with this opinion) I think that while anonymity may be something to be protected it sometimes ends up doing more harm than good. To me it’s simple, if you don’t have the stones to attach your name to your comments then why should anyone care what you think? Also, the online equivalent of ‘beer muscles’ or ‘liquid courage’ is amplified when someone can hide in plain sight and say whatever inflammatory remarks they want to simply tick people off and create dissension.

Having said that the ‘right’ of online anonymity has been protected more often than not.

Pseudonymous and anonymous comments have long been a critical part of U.S. public discourse, though, and the bill may be on shaky legal ground.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted on its website that the “right to anonymous speech is also protected well beyond the printed page.”

“Thus in 2002 the Supreme Court struck down a law requiring proselytizers to register their true names with the mayor’s office before going door-to-door,” wrote EFF, noting that the Supreme Court protects Internet commentary as it does pamphleteering.

There is more to consider here like the passage of such a law in Arizona in 2012 (which had to be modified to get through) but the concern for marketers should simply be how rules like this could shape discourse online and thus impact messaging in the online space.

Where do you stand on online anonymity as it relates to comments on a site? For it? Against it? See both sides of it? Let us know either with your real name or not in the comments here. You’re safe for now, either way.

  • This is the way we’ve been heading for awhile with YouTube pushing you to use your Google login and other sites using comment blanks like this that make it easier to login. Most anonymous commenting isn’t worth the space it takes up but if someone wants to cover their ID, it’s easy enough to create a fictional persona. Laws like these are for honest people, everyone else will find a way around it.

  • MrAndrewJ

    Hello again! I’m Andrew. I have to put one part of this out of the way first: Demanding the street address is horrible. Putting the rest aside, the street address is a stupid idea. Demanding that every webmaster on every five dollar a month shared hosting service also keeps a database of home addresses is horrifying on numerous fronts. Massive host-wide database breaches and easy-to-guess passwords are my biggest concerns. I’m willing to look at the rest both ways, but not the street address.

    Twenty five years ago we used Citizens Band style handles, which you acknowledged. It apparently worked: Just look at how many people came to join us.

    More importantly, to me, is whistle-blowing. I’ve done it. Salty Droid does it daily. There are bad people doing bad things. Sometimes anonymity helps a person bring bad behavior into the light without punishing the whistle-blower’s family. Anonymity is a tool, nothing more or less.

    “Report Abuse” buttons exist for 99% times when anonymous posting gets abused. It does. It probably happened a couple hundred times on YouTube and various news sites in the time it took you to skim over this post. Everything on the Internet already leaves a trail for the worst offenses.

    Again, I see education, common sense, and Webmaster Dictatorship as much more useful than ill-conceived laws. Remember: the First Amendment only applies to Congress. If you own a site then you can silence any fool who leaves any rotten message on it.

  • Anon.,tyvm

    Well, I have to agree with Frank, firstly – just go to CNN to see trolls everywhere, spewing reprehensible disparaging words with no concern. Yahoo also is like that on some stories. That just drags everyone’s otherwise-pleasant day down.
    But at the same time, I think that should be up to the site admin to decide what kind of community they want to create – definitely not something governed by law.
    And I’d sooner turn off blog comments and interact with my readers via email instead, than require anything more than a valid-looking email address to post a comment – why on earth would someone give a street address? Goodness. I also don’t trust the “on request” portion – is that like a DMCA takedown request? Can anyone request the street address of a commentor?
    This reallly sounds more like he doesn’t know how to install Akismet.