According to the blog McIntyre v Ohio, an anonymous blog devoted to promoting anonymous speech, Senator Joe Lieberman has proposed stripping blog hosts of the immunity they currently enjoy from liability for things their blog commenters say.
If legislation like this ever actually passes, I’ll be shutting down comments.
Those who followed the recent smack down of a serial troll at Popehat will no doubt remember that Ken invoked section 230 as the reason I cannot be held responsible for stupid things said by my commenters. I have the finest comment section on the planet, but you can’t prevent idiots from walking in the door if you are going to have open comments. And there are always the Kilgore Trouts of the world, too: people who deliberately plant inflammatory or racist comments on sites to smear the blog proprietors.
What effect would stripping out section 230 immunity have on the exchange of ideas — especially ideas advanced by anonymous people? Both good and bad, I suspect, but mostly bad. I might still be willing to publish comments from people I know and trust — but anonymous commenters could not be allowed to speak. That would be bad to the extent that valid, well-documented ideas and news from anonymous commenters were to disappear.
There would be one silver lining. You see, anonymous commenters (and bloggers) are also responsible for a lot of disinformation. And there is far too great a tendency for people to believe factual assertions by anonymous bloggers or commenters. Just because an anonymous blogger or commenter says something does not make it true. I specifically note this in part because I myself have been the victim of anonymous people making up “facts” about me. And it’s surprising how often people lap that kind of thing up.
So a revision to section 230 would be mostly bad. But given how often anonymous speech is not factual, you’re not going to find me crusading on this particular issue. I’m all for free speech; don’t get me wrong. But reducing the power of anonymous trolls to spread lies is no trivial matter.
UPDATE: Famed free speech attorney Marc Randazza sounds much more concerned, saying: “It will be a grave day if this amendment succeeds.”
UPDATE x2 4-2-12: As a handful of you have guessed, this was an April Fool’s hoax perpetrated by me and a few other bloggers. In reality, I would be very concerned with a law like this. Details in an upcoming post.
This may be my favorite April Fool’s joke yet. If you go back and re-read my comments in the thread, you’ll get an idea why.
5-6 commenters guessed and had their comments immediately moderated with a note from me asking them to keep the secret. (They all did.) I have now released those comments with a note explaining that they were released from moderation today.
UPDATE x3: My post on the deconstruction of the joke is up. You can read it here.