Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Naming Names on the Internet

Republican New Jersey State Assemblyman Peter J. Biondi has proposed a bill that would require the operators of any Internet forum or blog to obtain the name and address of anyone posting a message. I can understand why Mr. Biondi is upset. Apparently people have been saying some unkind things about him in the NJ.com forum for his home district, Somerset County. (For those unfamiliar with New Jersey geography, Somerset County is one county over from Essex County, where many episodes of The Sopranos are filmed.) Mr. Biondi would like to know who these people are so that he or his associates can have a little chat with them and gently persuade them that they have been mistaken in some of the things they have been saying about him. According to his spokesman he wants to "to bring back a little civility" to the forum, which has degenerated into "name-calling." New Jersey politics, as you may know, has a long tradition of civility and he is understandably worried that a few malcontents will do lasting damage to the state's reputation for reasonable discourse.

However, while I sympathize with Mr. Biondi's distress, I'm afraid his bill would have the unfortunate effect of chilling free speech on the Internet. Imagine if the anonymous scribes behind such popular sites as Wonkette, Andrew Sullivan, The Drudge Report, James Walcott, The Daily Kos, Michelle Malkin and any number of other political websites were forced to reveal their true identities. I think it would be terribly embarrassing if, say, "Andrew Sullivan" was forced to reveal his real name. His family, friends and employer would know, for example, that he is gay, recently had plantar warts and thinks "bears" are sexy. The person who goes by the name "Michelle Malkin" would have quite a few people angry at her for some of the nasty things she has said about them. I think it would be difficult for her to ever go out in public again. If "Matt Drudge" had to reveal his true identity, he would probably not feel as free to publish rumor and innuendo on his site and would have to hire prohibitively costly fact checkers to verify what he publishes so that he wouldn't get sued. Some of our finest bloggers might be forced to close up shop if this bill were passed and the free exchange of ideas would be irreparably harmed. In short, the United States would become like China, where the government has thrown people in jail for expressing ideas it doesn't like on the Internet.

I must confess that I am not an entirely disinterested party. Many of my readers might be surprised to know that "Jon Swift" is not in fact my real name but is a moniker I have assumed as a tribute to the brave Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Unfortunately, I would be unable to continue publishing this blog if I were forced to use my real name, which would be a real tragedy. So I hope Mr. Biondi will reconsider the action he has taken and withdraw his bill. Maybe he should start a blog himself. He wouldn't even have to use his real name.

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Anonymous said...

Well, of course, since it is now illegal to annoy people over the internet, they need to be able to know who is doing the annoying. The government has been trying for a long time now to track down this fictional "Michael Moore" character, maybe with this proposal they can finally get to the bottom if it.

benmerc said...

Yet every time I pick up the paper I am annoyed by the government. Maybe if Mr. Biondi could wring a little truth out of his party, innuendo would not be as trendy.

Patricia said...

I have nothing to hide, personally. Zen Yenta is my real name. I'm not as sure about some of the people who post on my blog. One of them claims her name is Carol. How likely is that?

DaveW said...

Heh, ok this is just too funny. I clicked the link to Sullivan (what I assumed was a categories link) at the bottom of your post to see what else you may have written about him. It leads me to a Technorati page with an ad at the top; "Find a Sylvan Learning Center Near You".

Heh again. Got linked over from JoM, like your site.

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