The Internet Protection Act sponsored by Assemblyman Dean Murray, left, and Sen. Thomas O’Mara, right, would require websites from New York state based companies to have toll free numbers or e-mail addresses for victims of negative anonymous postings to request the comments to be removed. Photo by Andrew Carden.
May 14, 2012A new bill called the Internet Protection Act would give people the ability to request that disparaging, anonymous posts be removed from websites owned by New York-based companies in an effort to stop cyberbullying.
"While the Internet is a wonderful resource for social networking, sadly it can also be used to anonymously bring harm to others," said Assemblyman Dean Murray, R-East Patchogue.
The legislation (A.8688/S.6779) is sponsored by Murray and Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats. If enacted, victims of anonymous website postings can request the posts be removed if the source refuses to attach his or her name to the comment.
"This bill will offer them the opportunity to either confront the person making these comments by having that person identified," said Murray, "or have the comment removed all together in the case where this comment is false or slanderous."
The measure would require these websites to have either a toll-free phone number or e-mail address for victims of cyberbullying to contact. If a complaint is filed, the website administrator will be required to contact the original commenter, who is given 48 hours to identify themselves as the author of the anonymous post or else the comment will be deleted.
"The internet has been a great innovation for our time, it's brought forth a lot of advantages, but with that, there are abuses that come with it," said O'Mara. "This will help lend some accountability to the internet age."
Murray points to "letters to the editor" in newspapers, saying you must identify yourself so you can "own that comment." The assemblyman says if the information posted on a website is true, then he or she should have no problem attaching their name to the comment.
The legislation would only affect New York-based websites such as blogs and newspapers, but Murray hopes it will start the conversation nationwide and become a federal bill.
"There's got to be a starting point," said Murray. "If we don't start somewhere, it's not going to spread. A lot of times New York does lead the way for the nation."
In addition to protecting against cyberbullying, Murray says this bill would be beneficial to small businesses such as restaurants. Many websites have sections for reviews or recommendations and competitors can use these forums to post negative comments about the business.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Scoharie, co-sponsor of the bill, said the internet is akin to the "wild west: almost anything goes." He asked, "How do we take a resource that is so beneficial and make sure it is used properly? Make sure we are civilized as we conduct ourselves in the use of that resource?"
Murray admitted to being a victim of derogatory website posts two years ago during his re-election campaign. An anonymous source posted on multiple websites that Murray committed acts of domestic violence against his ex-wife. The anonymous posts also said Murray's son was hiding from his father because he was being abused.
"These comments were absolutely horrible and unfortunately if you Google them now you'll still be able to pull up a couple of the comments," said Murray.
At the time, Murray's ex-wife was living in Maryland and offered to come to New York to help him clear his name; his son is in the military and was overseas at the time.
"Cyberbullying has become an epidemic in this country," said Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, R-Blooming Grove, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. "With the advancement of social media, bullies are able to attack their victims wherever and whenever they choose."