Blind-Squirrel Lieberman Finds Acorn [updated 4/2/12]

Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about anonymous commentersPeople who spew their garbage on the internet from behind masks don't have any motivation to be truthful, much less logical, even less civil. Raising the barriers to entry for online communication would improve online discussions all around; I can do it here, but that's the extent of my influence.

I learned today (h/t Brian Cuban, who's against it) that Senator Joe Lieberman is sponsoring a bill (PDF, via Mcintyre v Ohio) that would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to strip web hosts of statutory immunity for the conduct of their commenters. Lieberman is not my favorite legislator, but I think he might have blundered on to something this time. Fashioning a more serviceable internet is a worthy goal; this bill would accomplish that, though that's probably incidental to his goals.

Of course, the First Amendment still applies; Lieberman's "Accountability for Free Discussion" bill doesn't create a new cause of action, but just permits hosts to be treated as the publishers of the comments they allow (cough, cough, murraynewman) to the extent they could be before the abhorrently named CDA).

Obviously, making it possible for web hosts to be held responsible for the conduct can't help but raise the tone. Letting people who have been libeled online seek justice from those who allow the comments rather than chasing anonymous ghosts will essentially bring much-needed grown-up (but—and this is the key—nongovernmental) supervision to the Internet, raising barriers to entry and therefore the quality and utility of the discussion.

(See also Tannebaum, Randazza…[update: and Turkewitz].)

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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9 Responses to Blind-Squirrel Lieberman Finds Acorn [updated 4/2/12]

  1. Mike Paar says:

    I disagree, Mark. Often the anonymous comments provide information unavailable elsewhere. As on Murray’s blog, many of the posts are generated by current employees of the DA’s office and they would be reluctant to comment if they knew there was a chance that the Judge would find out their identities. You and I both know that Joe Lieberman’s motives for this bill are to silence this stream of information, and it would inevitably lead to more censorship. You give the government an inch and they’ll take a mile every time.

  2. Mark Draughn says:

    I think you’re missing the big picture on this one. I looked up your blog’s IP address, and unless you also own a hosting company in New York, I think it’s safe to say that everything on your site is actually third-party content on someone else’s servers. Given how often you denounce other lawyers for behaving unethically, do you really think the server owner will be willing to take the libel risk if this law passes?

    • Mark Bennett says:

      If Bluehost decides at any time for whatever reason that the benefit of hosting my blog isn’t worth the risk, I’ll be happy to set up my own server. But I don’t see the bill making that big a difference in the grand scheme of things: it doesn’t create any liability; it just returns things to the status quo ante CDA.

  3. Ric Moore says:

    I tend to disagree. There are national interests in bringing this great leveler to heel. Why? So they can enforce borders on a border-less community. Politicians abhor a political vacuum and tend to rush in. The Internet is the great flattener where poor but hard working students in India or China or North Korea or the Outback can compete with their sometimes lazier and more costly 1st world competitors. I say more power to them. And, capitalism will transform them to be more Democratic, without us firing a single shot. When the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria see the Indians getting the good life, they will fall into line and kick Al Queda out on their own, as they will have ceased to be relevant. So, stifling any communication is just that, stifling. And, with such rules, those ratting out tin pot dictators will be outed, possibly killed and then so much for free speech. I DO understand where you’re coming from. I darn near agree, except for the instances when anonymity does good. Besides, no one has anything to fear, except someone with something to hide.

    Besides, who will pay the costs of policing that policy?? It’s just an “around the thumb to get to the elbow” move for more Hollywood Anti-Piracy legislation ala SOPA/PIPA. Old Joe is thick with that bunch. Just google on Joe Lieberman and RIAA and read up on his tricks. My two cents says he’s a old analog political hack in the pockets of the media industry that is also mired in analog thinking, in a digital age. Just think of the original Tea-Party members in Boston, tossing tea into the harbor dressed as Indians, and you’ll see my point. I highly doubt they wore name tags. :) Ric

  4. Tanner Andrews says:

    The problem is that it makes it essentially impossible to operate any sort of blog or bulletin board where you have not checked hard copy ID first. If you don’t know who someone is, and they post something potentially actionable, you’re on the hook.

    Not so bad, you think? You can clean up the bad stuff. And what if a Rakofsky sees during the interim and adds you to his list of thirty-seven other out-of-state defendants? You are, after all, the one who made it possible for someone to post whatever he sues over, and so you now have to spend money to prove that he is a goof or at least do discovery to find out that he cannot allocate damages.

    In fairness, I should disclose that I have a client who will be affected by such a change if it goes through.

  5. David T says:

    My teenage kid recently got a criminal citation. He was in the hallways of his highschool. He referred to a teacher a “THAT STUPID BITCH.” At the urging of the vice-principal, the teacher pressed charges. (The court gave him community service.)

    I think it’s insane for public schools to be handling these cases as criminal matter. And I want to say so on the internet. But, for my kid’s sake at least, I don’t want that advocacy to be on the top next time the vice-principal googles my name.

  6. David T says:

    Arrrgh. I’ve been punk’d. :-)

  7. Morris says:

    I disagree with you. And it’s just not Liberman trying to sneak it through. Here are some articles.

    Move over SOPA & PIPA: Here comes CISPA — Internet censorship (Digital Journal)
    http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/322396

    CISPA: Congressional plan to censor Internet concerns critics (Examiner)
    http://www.examiner.com/progressive-in-portland/cispa-congressional-plan-to-censor-internet-concerns-critics

    Good freedom, bad freedom: Irony of cybersecurity (RT)
    http://rt.com/usa/news/usa-internet-cybersecurity-cispa-299/

    Internet SOPA/PIPA Revolt: Don’t Declare Victory Yet (Wired)
    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/internet-revolt-follow/

    H.R. 3523: Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr3523

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