Maryland’s Supreme Court rules anonymous web posting is protected

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Annapolis (MD) – In Maryland, the state’s Supreme Court has ruled that websites involved in defamation suits cannot be forced to reveal the identity of readers who post anonymous comments on their website, citing that disclosing such names would have a “chilling effect” on the First Amendment’s right to speak anonymously.

The case had been appealed when a lower court ruled the website NewsZap.com, an online forum run by Independent Newspapers, Inc., had to reveal the identities of a 2006 online exchange relating to a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Centreville.

See the original AP article republished on The Wall Street Journal.

Opinion

As a long time student of the United States Constitution, and as someone who even ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, I’m not sure where the idea of anonymity comes from when it relates to an individual’s freedom of speech right.

A long held journalistic tenet is the ability to protect our sources, even deciding to go to jail rather than disclosing their identities, which many of us often interpret as an expression of our first amendment rights. However, it is not a protected right to be anonymous — which is why we (journalists) go to prison when failing to reveal a source. If it was a right, we would not have to go to prison.

As such, I do not see the correlation here and I disagree with the court’s decision.

The United States Constitution protects citizens against illegal intrusions upon their abilities to speak out against oppression, the government, or anything else that we generally regard under “freedom of speech” arguments. However, the cowardice with which I see so many people exercising that right simply amazes me.

I’ve seen people hiding behind hats, sunglasses and face coverings like bandanas wrapped around their nose, cheeks and mouth. And here we see people hiding behind the anonymous walls/barriers of the Internet. Even here at TG Daily we have so many commenters who post such mean and negative comments and then use the email address “[email protected]” and the like.

If someone wishes to stand up and speak out against something they disagree with, in this country that right is protected and people do not need to hide. They should be able to stand up and with a clear conscience and good intention in a peaceful manner say with a loud voice, “NO! I disagree with this. And here are my reasons.” It then becomes a matter of debate and discourse to resolve the issue among those parties concerned.

Hiding behind masks, crouching in cowardice behind the Internet’s anonymity; this is not what this world needs — and it’s not what our protected right to freedom of speech is about. If people wish to be the equivalent of patriots — calling something out that they believe is wrong, then they need to stand up and do so as patriots, otherwise they are merely being something else. To quote one of my favorite lines of all times, taken from the movie The Money Pit, where Russian Alexander Godunov’s character, Max the Maestro, said, “Paint, don’t tickle” when he saw one of the painting staff barely touching the brush to the wood.

That message is so strong: If you’re going to do something, or believe in something, or hold fast to something and ultimately stand for something in this world, then do it full throttle. In short: Paint, don’t tickle.

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