Kentucky Representative Tim Couch filed a bill this week to make anonymous posting online illegal.
The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site.
Their full name would be used anytime a comment is posted. If the bill becomes law, the website operator would have to pay if someone was allowed to post anonymously on their site. The fine would be five-hundred dollars for a first offense and one-thousand dollars for each offense after that.
Representative Couch says he filed the bill in hopes of cutting down on online bullying. He says that has especially been a problem in his Eastern Kentucky district.
I’m not sure what’s happening in eastern Kentucky that isn’t happening everywhere else in the world, but guess what: the internet can be a tough place. People can and will be jerks. Welcome to the world.
I think this kind of legislation is just stupid. It’s the kind of thing Democrats are always accused of doing--"nanny legislating” and “big government”--but which Republicans have no problem doing when it suits them (Good Samaritan bill, anyone?).
Put aside the whole problematic issue of enforcing such a law for a moment, let’s take a look at the issue itself: I’m sure Rep. Couch is correct in assuming that people will be more polite if they didn’t have an online pseudonym to hide behind. But who says the internet has to be polite? I happen to like the raw, Wild West style of commentary one finds online. Yes, people can be offensive, but anonymity also helps foster the free exchange of ideas. Yes, it can get heated, offensive and vulgar, but so does communication at a bar or sporting event. Have you been to a Predators game when 18,000 people are shouting "You suck!" at the opposing team's goalie?
Yes, I’m aware of the Megan Meier case. This was tragic, to be sure, but it was also a very bizarre incident which I don’t think reflects the norm for online communication. And I hope most parents know by now to closely monitor their youngsters’ online chats. I know: “good luck,” I get it. Still, parents have an obligation to teach their kids about internet safety, and that doesn't just mean telling them to not meet the perv in the chat room. It means making them understand that the internet is not always reality.
I have friends who proudly post their real names online. I choose to use a pseudonym. Big deal. Quite a few people out there in the blogosphere know who I am, it’s not a big secret, but I don’t advertise it, either. I just feel safer that way. That may sound hyper-dramatic to some folks, but I’ve also had my very own personal stalker: a bi-polar Iranian who threatened the last President Bush and was picked up by the Secret Service on his way to Nashville, I guess to pay me a personal visit. So, excuse me for not taking any chances. There are too many crazies in the world.
Other people have their own reasons for being anonymous on the internet. They may fear retaliation for their comments on a blog, or they may be trying to manipulate the dialog, or they're just turning to the internet for a place to vent.
I don’t think that should be illegal. And I think folks like Tim Couch need to find a better way of dealing with the issues their districts face than by enacting silly laws like this.