Unfortunately, except for the Senator’s name, this isn’t quite an April Fools’ Day joke. The name is Lieberman — Joe Lieberman. A big hat tip to our friend Adam Bonin at Daily Kos for this story:
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 … provides powerful legal protections for owners of sites like this one, saying that when it comes to defamatory (or otherwise offensive) posts you make on someone else’s site, the site owner’s not liable — just you. You can imagine how many letters I’ve gotten to send [that] thanks to Section 230 reduce down to telling some gnat that he’s “f’ed on owner liability,” and any day of the year that ends things.
Onto Lieberman. Via the McIntyre-v-Ohio website, which is dedicated to anonymous speech issues, I’ve learned that Sen. Lieberman plans to introduce a bill this week to strip site owners of Section 230 protections for the posts of anonymous commenters. Here’s the text. [Warning, PDF].
Lieberman’s bill would end the Internet as we know it. By a simple change from “shall” to “may,” Lieberman will empower a Republican-dominated federal judiciary to decide on whim and caprice which site owners are protected from liability their commenters’ actions, and who faces potentially massive judgments.
We have a continuing disagreement with our colleagues at Liberal OC (and some other sites) who don’t think that we should allow anonymous blogging — or even pseudonymous blogging where we don’t know the actual identity of the blogger sufficiently well to pass along liability to them. They have a reasonable point about some of the cowardly attacks that are thrown about under the cloak of anonymity, but we believe that the cure is worse than the disease.
Vern and I think that there are valid reasons for anonymous blogging — as well as, of course, invalid ones. (I should note that I’m publishing this without consulting with Vern, based on our conversations over the course of the past half-year about this issue.) To protect the valid reasons for anonymous speech — including legitimate whistle-blowing — we’re willing to put up with a certain amount of rat scat in the peanut butter, so to speak. Vern and I tend to agree with the ACLU that the cure to bad speech is generally more speech, inviting the reader to condemn. Some other sites cope with bad speech by moderating everything and picking and choosing what gets published, which we do not want to do. Upon request, though, we will take down something that strikes us as defamatory or bigoted, among other reasons. We take a liberal view (naturally) towards including comments without intending to allow a complete free for all or to let our communal water cooler turn into a cesspool.
In the bad old days, before then-Reps. Ron Wyden and OC’s own Chris Cox (who would later go on to dismantle the SEC) passed Section 230, we would not be able to do that. We’d have one of two choices: either choose to operate as a “common carrier,” with no more say into what appears in our comments sections than the Post Office has regarding sealed mail or the phone company has with private conversations, or else edit it for content. If we chose to edit it for content, we (well, Vern) could be sued for not doing the kind of job of it that lives up to someone else’s standards. The best way to avoid being sued? Block commenting. The second best way? Allow the speech there to be completely uncensored — photos included. The worst way? Try to do a conscientious job of striking a balance.
Sen. Lieberman hates blogs because they have treated him, over the past decade, like the piece of rat scat that he is. He’s retiring this year; this appears to be his attempt to get in one final punch at his nemeses, of which I’m proud to have been one. If you like blogging, commenting on blogs, or just reading them, he’s your nemesis too.
Who can stop him? The first chance is in the committee he chairs. Here’s a list of the people on the committee who do not look and act like Emperor Palpatine:
Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii
Mark Begich, D-Alaska
Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts
Tom Carper, D-Delaware
Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma
Susan Collins, R-Maine (ranking member)
Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin
Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana
Carl Levin, D-Michigan
John McCain, R-Arizona
Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri
Jerry Moran, R-Kansas
Rand Paul, R-Kentucky
Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas
Jon Tester, D-Montana
Step 1 is to call them; step 2 is to call Senators Feinstein and Boxer; step 3 is to call President Obama. If you appreciate free speech on the Internet, it’s time to defend it.