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New York looks to make Internet trolling illegal

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Less than two months after Arizona stirred up the free speech hornet's nest by passing legislation that essentially made Internet trolling illegal, New York is trying something very similar.

Proposed legislation in the Empire State would legally force you to identify yourself if someone didn't like your comment on a web site. Essentially, it's a ban on anonymous online comments.

The bill, known as the Internet Protection Act, would require authors of offensive posts to either identify themselves when asked or have their comments removed.

First introduced earlier this month, the bill is coming under heavy fire. Critics note that policing the law would be virtually impossible, and could result in many sites simply doing away with comments. And the First Amendment issues are staggering, they say.

"So much for the constitutional right to speak anonymously on issues of public interest, a right which the Supreme Court has affirmed multiple times," said the California Anti-SLAPP Project.

The bill's sponsors, including Republican Assemblyman Jim Conte, are standing behind the proposal, saying it addresses the problem of cyber-bullying.

"Too often, rival businesses will post negative and false posts to hurt their competition," he said. "With more and more people turning to online reviews, it is important to ensure that the posted information, good or bad, is from actual customers and not rival competitors. … The legislation will [also] help cut down on the types of mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent's reputation by using the anonymity of the Web."

While New York might want to point to the Arizona bill for air cover, that might not be wise.

Following the outcry and threatened legal challenges to that bill, Arizona lawmakers attached an amendment changing the wording of the law at the beginning of May, removing elements that outlawed trolling.

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