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The end of cyberbullying? Or the end of free speech?

A teenager and his younger brother enjoy trading insults over an instant messaging system.
A teenager and his younger brother enjoy trading insults over an instant messaging system.
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Two identical Republican sponsored bills are making their way through the New York state Senate and Assembly right now that would make it difficult for website commenters to remain anonymous. The bills are dubbed The Internet Protection Act, and they would require all New York based websites to allow users to report a comment if they believe it to be defamatory or bullying.

The site administrator would then have to contact the anonymous poster and if the person refuses to attach their real name, IP address and confirm a home address, the post will be taken down. The goal of the legislation is to curb cyber-bullying and, in the words of one co-sponsor, “lend some accountability in the internet age.” The state legislators pushing the bill say incidents of cyber-bullying as reached epidemic proportions and victims need a way to fight back. Critics of the law decry it as a blow to free speech.

According to one privacy expert it essentially gives a “heckler’s veto” to anyone who disagrees with the content of a comment. Is this the end of free speech on the internet? Do we have a right to anonymous online comment?


Michael Fitzpatrick, Republican Assemblyman, New York State. Represents 7th district, Smithtown, NY. He is the co-sponsor of the bill.

Paul Alan Levy, Attorney, Public Citizen Litigation Group – described as a champion for citizen rights; Levy has argued scores of cases in United States Court of Appeals (three en banc). He has argued four cases in Supreme Court of the United States; more recently, Levy has specialized in free speech issues arising on the Internet.