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The law vs. online hate speech

Anonymous bullies must be held accountable.

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The cartoon isn't as amusing as it once was. "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog," one Web-surfing canine barked to another in that 1993 classic from the New Yorker. Back then, of course, at the innocent dawn of the Internet Age, the idea that we might all be anonymous on the Web promised infinite intellectual freedom. Unfortunately, however, that promise hasn't been realized. Today, too many anonymous Internet users are posting hateful content about their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers.

This isn't illegal, of course, because online speech – anonymous or otherwise – is protected by the First Amendment and by the Supreme Court's much-cited 1995 McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission ruling protecting anonymous speech. But is today's law adequately protecting us? What happens, for example, when anonymous Internet critics go beyond rude and irremediably blacken the reputations of innocent citizens or cause them harm? Should there be legal consequences?

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