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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blog Control Act on SDPB: Analysis and Spitballs, Part 1

SDPB's Dakota Midday yesterday featured a good half-hour discussion of the Blog Control Act, HB 1277 & HB 1278. Primary sponsors Rep. Noel Hamiel of Mitchell and Senator Nancy Turbak Berry of Watertown defended the bills; Black Hills Pioneer publisher Stewart Huntington and Sioux Falls lawyer John Arneson spoke against them. Robert Doody of ACLU South Dakota also joined the conversation, proving that opponents of the bill are really commie pinko sympathizers trying to destroy Amer—whoops! sorry. Still detoxing from Sibby.

Here's Part 1 of my analysis of what was said. (See also Part 2!)

Inhibiting the Exchange of Ideas: Rep. Hamiel opened by saying the idea behind these bills has been building for some time. The intent, says Hamiel, has never been to inhibit the exchange of ideas online. Unfortunately for Hamiel, that's what his bills do: they make it more expensive for honest citizens who want to communicate by name to start a blog or other website that engages all citizens in civic discourse. To meet the broad logging requirements of these bills, bloggers would have to spend more time and money to start their own websites, meaning fewer people and particularly fewer working-class people will participate in exchanging ideas online.

Defamation—Examples? Hamiel says he filed this bills because defamation online simply isn't addressed sufficiently by current law. We can all point to examples of libel online, says Hamiel, and recourse against such libel is limited.

Interestingly, Hamiel did not offer a single example of online libel. I wonder, just what abundant examples is he talking about? Might he be referring to some nasty comments directed at him on the blog hosted by his own old newspaper two years ago, responding to his candidacy for the office he now holds?

Moving Targets: When asked whom this legislation targets, Hamiel says his bills are aimed at Internet providers and content providers who are generally exempt from libel actions under the Communications Decency Act. (Wait: so we're circumventing federal law?) Hamiel then shifts and says the intent is to target the authors of online libel. Hamiel's language in the interview gets really confusing, as he seems to conflate authors of blog posts and authors of blog comments. Let's keep it straight: the two laws under consideration impose legal obligations and liabilities on blog hosts, blog software providers, Internet service providers... darn near everyone except anonymous commenters.

First Amendment Still an Issue: Stewart Huntington says the First Amendment is not really an issue in this debate. He agrees (as does nearly everyone else in this debate) that the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech in any venue. However, what neither Huntington nor anyone else in Wednesday's interview addressed was the chilling effect of HB 1277 and 1278 on non-defamatory, non-anonymous (nymous?) speech. The First Amendment is still a relevant point of opposition to these bills.

Whew! Yesterday's Dakota Midday put a lot on the table to discuss. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my analysis later this afternoon!

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