China wouldn’t be my first guess of places American lawmakers would look for legislative ideas. But Mashable points to a proposed law in Kentucky that would make it illegal for websites to allow anonymous comments and fine site owners $500 for the first offense. Tim Couch, the state representative who sponsored the bill, says it’s necessary to fight “online bullying,” according to WTVQ in Lexington.

The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site.

Their full name would be used anytime a comment is posted.

If the bill becomes law, the website operator would have to pay if someone was allowed to post anonymously on their site. The fine would be five-hundred dollars for a first offense and one-thousand dollars for each offense after that.

Sounds familiar, no? Couch’s reasoning is different, but this sounds awfully familiar to China’s old Real Name Registration rule for bloggers.

China, at least, could get away with trying blunt-instrument regulation of online speech. But Kentucky? Bit of a problem with the First Amendment there. Not to mention the problem of enforcing such a rule. As Mashable notes, much of this stems from suicides supposedly linked to MySpace, which is starting to sound like a newer and less bat-hungry version of Ozzy Osbourne.

This time around, in response to recent suicides on MySpace and other events taking place online that resulted supposedly from online, US lawmakers are willing to suspend the right to speak freely to apply a bandaid to the problems of American young ones’ self esteem. Understandably, when the irresponsible actions of a few lead to the death of a family member, immediate and decisive action is wanted to rectify the issue legally. Unfortunately, banning all anonymous commentary online is about like banning all gossip publications because Britney Spears became a bad mother due to overzealous paparazzi, or banning everything from pocket knives to nuclear arms because someone was mugged at the corner store.

As I mentioned, this debate has happened already. China toyed with it, then gave up. Maybe Couch would benefit from revisiting what Wang Xiaofeng wrote two years ago:

Insults and swearing did not start because of the Internet or blogs; libel started when people first started writing. Fraud and confidence tricks are ancient crimes, you can’t just blame them on the Internet. Is it possible that the real name system will solve all these problems? It’s like that old joke: if the eighth steamed bun is the one that makes you full, why bother eating the first seven?

The text of House Bill 775 is available here.


  1. Interesting but I wonder if this would really work in the US. Most people have multiple email accounts and log on at different access points (IE home, work or free WiFi access points such as Starbucks). There is probably some way around that by using a different email address or constantly changing your IP address through only commenting at public WiFi spots.


  2. The law could only apply to websites hosted inside of Kentucky, any site outside of the state and the Interstate Commerce Clause takes away all of the state’s power.

    In the end, Kentucky based websites would be the only parties to feel the effects of this law.

  3. Nanhey is right- the business community in Kentucky can’t be particularly pleased about this, as web sites will base themselves out of other states in order to circumvent the policy.

    I wonder whether Couch’s legislation was caused by the enormous amounts of online abuse he must have received during his professional football career, where he was once a No. 1 draft pick by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and became one of the biggest busts in franchise history.

  4. Off-topic, but it should be noted that it is a milestone for any blog the day that nanheyangrouchuan comes to comment. 😉

    And not a bad word about China… that’s a milestone of a whole other sort.

  5. Pingback: Eyes East: A blog about Dalian and Northeast China » Blog Archive » Slouching towards Beijing

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