Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about anonymous commenters. People 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.