The New York State Senate (S.6779) and Assembly (A.8688) are contemplating a bill that would require the following:
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. ALL WEB SITE ADMINISTRATORS SHALL HAVE A CONTACT NUMBER OR E-MAIL ADDRESS POSTED FOR SUCH REMOVAL REQUESTS, CLEARLY VISIBLE IN ANY SECTIONS WHERE COMMENTS ARE POSTED.
In the definitions, an ‘anonymous poster’ is in fact anyone who posts on a blog (like this one) or any Web site that solicits comments. If you identify yourself in your posts, you’re still anonymous. Although I don’t use my real name in my posts, it’s easy enough to find it. So for the purposes of the bill, this is an anonymous post. And the bill does not distinguish between posts (which appear on the home page and have titles) and comments (written in response to posts or other comments).
I try to be a good citizen, even when I think the law is stupid. So what would I have to do?
- Set up an e-mail address for removals (trivial).
- Place the address so that it appears on every page with posts or comments (probably not too difficult).
- Monitor the address for removal requests (taking a small amount of time, but probably not a major problem).
- On receipt of a request for removal, do one of the following:
- Contact the original poster or commenter, and ask for his legal name, home address, and IP address. (I don’t like doing this, but I don’t like the alternative either. So I’ll ask. I believe that anyone capable of writing a post knows his or her name and home address, but the IP address is trickier. The system records IP addresses for comments, but not for posts. Some of the more tech-savvy readers can find out their Internet IP address easily enough, while I can write instructions for others. But the address you find through this procedure may not be the IP address that you used when you wrote your post or comment.) If the poster/commenter supplies this information, then either he or I must append his name to the post/comment.Otherwise, we fall through to the second alternative, which is:
- Delete the post/comment in question.
By the way, I learned English grammar from the old Warriner book, which indicated that one uses the masculine form of the pronoun when referring to a person whose gender is unknown. I know that many of the followers of this site are women, and I don’t mean for anyone to feel slighted, or believe that they might be exempt from the requirement to identify themselves.
Now there some obvious holes:
- How do I know that the request to remove something represents a valid complaint against specific posts or comments? I don’t: the bill admits no effort on the part of Web site administrators to verify the authenticity of a removal request. I cannot contact the party requesting a removal and ask him to confirm his legal name, home address, or IP address. If someone told me to remove everything, as they feel insulted by all of the content on this site, according to the bill, I would have to comply. (OK, maybe the category headings could stay, as they’re not actually ‘comments.’)
- How do I know that the poster/commenter will give me correct information? In fact, I don’t. But there is no requirement that I verify further.
- When I do remove content as required by this bill, can I include a note, ‘Removed per direction of Joe Blow’? The bill is silent on this point. (Of course, Joe Blow could write back and ask me to remove the note, as well.)
I would write to my state legislators, but I know they’re useless. And even if the measure got defeated this year, I’m sure it will return in the next session.
Perhaps it’s time to move to New Jersey.