Nothing Public About Anonymous Speech (7/2/09)

While we all benefit from the wealth of information the Internet puts at our fingertips, the relative anonymity it provides allows too many people to make unfounded, abusive allegations about anyone they wish to smear.

But that may be about to change. Recently, an anonymous poster on a Richmond, Kentucky newspaper website made comments about a female college student that she insists are untrue and slanderous. And the young woman has responded by getting a subpoena to force the paper to reveal the poster's identity.

The newspaper is fighting the subpoena, citing the First Amendment rights of the poster to speak freely in a public forum. But I hope they lose.

Yes, I understand the importance of the First Amendment. But I've never thought it should apply to anonymous speech. Certainly, anyone willing to stand up in a public forum should be allowed to say whatever they want - short of slander -- without fear of reprisal. But what's "public" about a forum in which the speaker is anything BUT public, and lacks the conviction to attach his identity to his statements?

Cowards shouldn't be able to make public "hit and run" accusations while making it impossible for their victims to face their accusers. And I believe website operators have an obligation to keep their sites from being used for such a purpose.

I'm Bill Lamb, and that's my...Point of View