In this digital age when an iPhone app can scan and identify faces and your social profile epitomizes your wired existence, anonymous posting is a welcomed reprieve.
The legislation requires that the web administrator of any New York-based site, including blogs, social networks, online publications and message boards, "remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post," upon request.
Bloggers jumped on the news, pointing to disparities between the text and the U.S. Constitution. The main argument is that under the First Amendment, we, as citizens of the U.S., are granted freedom of speech, so that Congress, and state legislatures by association, may not make any laws abridging this fundamental right.
Like a vast majority of the Constitution, the First Amendment is not overly broad and does not explicitly identify what constitutes free speech, so we are left wondering if anonymous online speech falls into the category.
Looking to the precedents set by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit focused on defending free speech and privacy rights, notes that the nation's highest court has "ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment." The EFF cites the 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections, which protects anonymous speech, referring specifically to printed pamphlets, but its holding does not cover online speech.
Time references an earlier case, Talley v. California, but that too involves anonymous printed speech. Opponents of the legislation will have very few constitutional cases to draw upon in order to support the assertion that the bills violate the First Amendment.
It's for this reason that anonymous online comments fall into a grey zone.
Anonymous comments came under scrutiny from news websites in 2010, as publications ushered in changes to their online comment moderation systems to weed out trolls, but publishers are not liable for the content anonymous commenters post under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. However, comments can be subpoenaed and websites may be forced to reveal the identities of the commenters.
Despite individual successes in exposing the identities of anonymous online commenters, no state has proposed an overarching piece of legislation that, if passed, would have such detrimental effect on anonymous online speech as this one; after all, New York City serves as a major hub for website headquarters, hosting numerous newspapers and blogs, including The Huffington Post.
Although the legislation has not been voted on and is currently under review by committee, it still represents an immense threat to online anonymity. Either of the bills could be passed by the legislature and signed into law without much opposition. It's only in the aftermath that opponents could take the constitutional argument to court -- and even then it's not a strong one backed by specific precedent.
Wikipedia is planning <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/16/wikipedia-blackout-jimmy-wales-sopa_n_1208947.html" target="_hplink">a 24-hour blackout</a> beginning at midnight EST on January 18 and lasting for 24 hours.
Reddit, the social sharing site that <a href="http://blog.reddit.com/2012/01/stopped-they-must-be-on-this-all.html" target="_hplink">first proposed the SOPA strike</a>, will blackout for 12 hours on January 18, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. <a href="http://blog.reddit.com/2012/01/stopped-they-must-be-on-this-all.html" target="_hplink">From the Reddit blog</a>: <blockquote>Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.</blockquote>
Google announced on Wednesday that it will also protest SOPA and PIPA. <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-57360223-261/google-will-protest-sopa-using-popular-home-page/?part=rss&subj=latest-news&tag=title" target="_hplink">According to CNET</a>, Google will have a link on its US homepage showing its opposition to SOPA and PIPA.
Various news outlets report that photo sharing site twitpic will join the protest against SOPA and PIPA, but it's unclear what the site will do on January 18.
WordPress.org, the popular blogging platform, will go dark on Wednesday to protest SOPA and PIPA. <a href="http://wordpress.org/news/2012/01/help-stop-sopa-pipa/" target="_hplink">In a post</a> on the WordPress blog, Jane Wells, the UX lead for WordPress, wrote that "if this bill is passed it will jeopardize internet freedom and shift the power of the independent web into the hands of corporations. We must stop it."
<a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-57360174-501465/wikipedia-moveon-reddit-mozilla-shuts-down-to-protest-sopa-pipa-how-to-prepare/" target="_hplink">According to CBS</a>, Mozilla will participate in the blackout on January 18. Mozilla has dedicated entire pages to both <a href="http://www.mozilla.org/sopa/" target="_hplink">SOPA</a> and <a href="https://donate.mozilla.org/page/s/commit-to-call-pipa" target="_hplink">PIPA</a>.
MoveOn.org, the progressive PAC, will go dark on January 18 to protest SOPA. "Congress is playing fast and loose with Internet censorship legislation that would have people like Justin Bieber thrown in jail for uploading a video to YouTube," said Justin Ruben, the executive director of MoveOn.org, <a href="http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2012/01/more-web-sites-plan-blackouts-in-protest-against-sopa-pipa/1" target="_hplink">according to USA Today</a>.
Center For Democracy And Technology
The Center for Democracy and Technology, <a href="http://www.cdt.org/about" target="_hplink">a non-profit</a> that's "working to keep the internet open," <a href="http://www.cdt.org/blogs/161open-internet-fights-back" target="_hplink">will go dark on Wednesday</a> "[i]n an effort to pressure the Senate to postpone its premature action -- and to protest the slanted process by which PIPA and SOPA have advanced through Congress."
Imgur, the free image-hosting site, will blackout its galleries for 12 hours on January 18. Instead of the gallery, users will see "a message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation threatens sites like Imgur with methods to take action," <a href="http://imgur.com/blog/2012/01/16/imgur-joins-blackout/" target="_hplink">the company said</a> on its blog. According to Imgur, users with paid accounts will not be affected.
Minecraft.net, along with www.mojang.com and www.playcobalt.com, will "close down" on January 18, according to a post on the Mojang website. "No sane person can be for SOPA," Markus "Notch" Persson, <a href="http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/01/12/notch-no-sane-person-can-be-for-sopa/" target="_hplink">the creator of Minecraft, said on Mojang.com</a>. "I don't know if we're sane, but we are strongly, uncompromisingly against SOPA, and any similar laws. Sacrificing freedom of speech for the benefit of corporate profit is abominable and disgusting."
<a href="http://www.minyanville.com/businessmarkets/articles/sopa-protect-ip-senate-hearings-ip/1/17/2012/id/38865" target="_hplink">According to Minyanville</a>, the Cheezburger Network of sites will go dark on January 18 to protest SOPA. Cheezburger network sites include The Daily What, Fail Blog and Know Your Meme.