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Smerconish: NY initiative to ban anonymous posting online goes too far

By Michael Smerconish

Let me finish tonight with this.

The blogosphere can be a vicious place. Go on any news web site that allows the posting of anonymous comments below stories and you can see what I am talking about.

Now, Matt Peckham at is reporting that the state of New York is seeking to ban anonymous comments from websites. The proposal would "amend the civil rights law" in order to "[protect] a person's right to know who is behind an anonymous internet posting." The definition of web site includes social media.

The intention, apparently, is to combat cyber bullying. The Supreme Court has upheld anonymous free speech, saying in 1995: "Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views … Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority." And back in 1960, Justice Black reminded that if anonymous speech had been unlawful at the time of the Federalist Papers, authors Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay would have been forced to disclose their real names (or the Papers would perhaps have simply remained unpublished). 

Still, I was curious to read what comments were posted to the Time story and to see how many signed their name! Some did, and they framed the issue nicely.  

My heart likes the New York initiative to ban anonymous postings. My head says otherwise. So it is doubtful that the contemplated law could withstand constitutional muster, and it's just as well. As we go into Memorial Day weekend, it's important to remember that many died to preserve the right for free speech, even the offensive.