BUFFALO, NY- Cyberbullies who hide behind their anonymity online are the targets of a newly proposed bill in New York State. Many victims of online bullying and their families fully support the bill, but critics say it violates the right to free speech.
Under the newly proposed Internet Protection Act, when anyone complains about an anonymous comment, the Web site administrator must make the commenter attach their "real name" to the post or the anonymous comment would by law have to be taken down. Not only that but the commenter will also be required to verify that his or her "IP address, legal name and home address are accurate."
Supporters of the bill say it will address the problem of baseless political attacks, criticism of businesses, and mean-spirited slams by cyberbullies.
The bill was introduced earlier this month in both the Senate and the House and is co-sponsored there by local Assembly members Jane Corwin (R- Clarence) and John Ceretto (R- Lewiston). If the bill were to become law, however, it likely wouldn't stand to constitutional muster.
"I would be one of the first to step up and challenge this," said local attorney Paul Cambia.
Cambria, who's also a past president of the National First Amendment Trial Lawyers Association, says government cannot silence speech the way they are proposing.
"The government can't restrict these carriers from carrying speech unless it falls into the very narrow exceptions to the first amendment, such as obscenity, fighting words, and the so called 'fire in the theater,'" Cambria said.
Tim and Tracy Rodemeyer fully support the proposed law, and no one may know the dangers of cyberbullying better than them.
Their 14-year-old son Jamey took his own life last September in part because of the hurt he endured by nameless posts online. They say they wish the proposed bill would have been a law when Jamey was alive.
"It may have made a difference because then if there are people who are bold enough to do that you can go after them," said Tim Rodemeyer.
Some say the bill is also outright dangerous, and an online stalker's dream, because those commenting are forced to give up too much information.
"That's too much of a penalty to pay for speech," said Cambria.
But the Rodemeyers say it's the price to pay to keep cyberbullies off the web, and maybe save another Jamey out there.
"The whole anonymous thing is just a blanket of security for haters on the internet. So this is a good step forward," Tim Rodemeyer said.