A new bill in the Kentucky state legislature would ban anonymous speech in web forums, ostensibly in response to online harassment and “cyberbullying.” The bill would require forum posters to register their real name, address and e-mail with the forum. All forum posts would include the poster’s full name. Under the bill, any forum operator who allowed users to post anonymously would face liability.
The anti-anonymity bill seems to have arisen to some extent from the controversy over forums such as JuicyCampus.com and Auto Admit. Some are concerned that under current law – particularly Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – forum operators are immune from liability for their posters’ comments and the posters often are anonymous and difficult to track down. Thus, it can be difficult for plaintiffs to find someone to sue based on the postings.
This seems to me to be an example of lawmakers recognizing that the web is different – and, further, that these differences are bad and must be stopped. The bill would remove the protection of anonymity from certain forms of online speech, which correspondingly would suppress instances of speech that only would occur if the speakers believed they enjoyed the protection of anonymity. Online speech would track closer to real-world speech, which offers little chance for anonymity.
For more information, the Technology Liberation Front blog has an interesting discussion of the First Amendment ramifications of the bill.