Cennamology Chief Editor
With Eric Cantor having lost his primary to an obscure economics professor, Tea Party challengers across the country are starting to be taken more seriously. One of those challengers that is not so lucky is Claudia Tenney, who is challenging Rep. Richard Hanna in the Republican primary in New York's 22nd District next Tuesday.
Unlike most Tea Party challengers, Tenney has the advantage of currently holding elected office, something which many Tea Party challengers across the country have never done. However, this may hurt Tenney more than help her because having served in the New York state assembly, she has a voting record to scrutinize that candidates like David Brat did not have to worry about.
Her voting record is what you would expect of a typical Republican state legislator. However, it is not her voting record as much as the legislation she has introduced and cosponsored during her tenure that raises eyebrows of all of those who care about the First Amendment in the age of technology.
According to The Guardian, "website administrators would be required to provide a contact number or email address for people to request anonymous comment removals. Upon receiving a complaint, the website would then be required to contact the original commenter and give them a 48-hour window to identify their posts."
Basically, Tenney and a handful of other New York lawmakers must have had their little feelings hurt by those mean and nasty internet trolls. It is scary to imagine the intent the lawmakers must have had writing this legislation. If they had the names of the anonymous posters, would the lawmakers plan to retaliate in some way? Why else would they want to know the names, email addresses, and numbers of those who write anonymous comments?
Banning anonymity in commenting would take away a lot from political dialogue, as oftentimes many people choose to hide their name because they want to give their input on a topic that they might not want their current or future employers to see. This legislative would have punished the many for the mistakes of the few. Do not punish those who wish to remain anonymous so they can say something constructive without the fear of any possible negative ramifications just because of few trolls posted some insulting comments.
Plus, banning anonymity will not get rid of many nasty and idiotic comments on the internet. There are just as many such comments from identified commenters as there are from anonymous commenters. Mean-spirited political attacks are not unique to the anonymous. Legislators like Tenney chose to be public figures, so they just have to accept the fact that people are going to say nasty things about them online. They should not try to introduce legislation like the Internet Protection Act to try and avoid what cannot be avoided.
In an increasingly polarized America, there are many tweets and comments that I come across on the Internet that are so fact-free, filled with partisan drivel, and incendiary that they are, without a doubt, contributing to the dumbing-down of the American political dialogue. Tweets from accounts like the now-defunct "Adolf Joe Biden" have turned American political debate from civilized discussion among the electorate to hate speech and personal attacks filled with the agenda-fueled talking points that one would hear on Fox News.
Instead of forcing those few that are anonymous to reveal themselves, we should instead be educating America and promoting civil political discourse. Only civility can make the American populace more open minded and focused on policy issues instead of personal attacks. The First Amendment rightfully protects those who fuel the fire of the already overheated rhetoric, but it is up to those of us who care about progress to promote a political system composed of sane and constructive dialogue where you can be open to the other side without feeling like you have to abandon your own beliefs in the process.
In Tenney's case, I can see how banning anonymous comments would (and rightfully should) anger her Tea Party base, as they are often the ones who are posting such mind-numbingly thoughtless comments behind the veil of anonymity. Also, it should anger anti-big government conservatives as well, since the government forcing websites to get the contact information and names of those who comment anonymously and send them to the government on request is one of the most intrusive laws on website managers that legislators can pass.
Over the last few years, the coexistence of the Internet and the First Amendment has been threatened by bills like SOPA and PIPA that, thankfully, went nowhere in Congress. Our right to share information online is something that cannot be taken for granted in America, and whenever laws like SOPA, PIPA, and the IPA are introduced, we need to show lawmakers just how important freedom of speech on the internet is, especially to blogs like this one.
The Internet may not have been around when the founders put "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech," in the Constitution, but if they were around today, I am positive that they would support an Internet users' right to comment anonymously. In fact, the most famous anti-Federalist articles written during the time of the Founding Fathers were anonymous, with only the pseudonym "Cato" used as the identity the author. There were anonymous letters and responses to published works during the time of our Founding Fathers, and they encouraged it, they did not wish to limit it. The founders saw anonymous writers as very beneficial to the education of the population of the newly independent country.
Tenney is not fit to be a Congresswoman because of her simplistic, top-down solutions to problems that can only be solved with initiative from the many and her promotion of the intrusion of the government into our social lives. Hateful comments are not beneficial to society, but they are indicators as to all the work we need to do in order to ensure that civility wins in the end.