Moment of truth?

Bunyip’s unlikely nemesis?

Bloggers and spammers could be forced to put their names to political commentary in a bid to close a loophole in the nation’s electoral laws.

Roused by last year’s furore over anonymous political websites such as www.johnhowardlies.com, the Howard Government plans to clamp down on web publishers who refuse to identify a person who authorises their content.

And what effect would such legislation have on the operation of blog comment box facilities? Would we be forced to require commenters to append their real name and address to comments, like letters to the editor correspondents in newspapers? Shock, horror. (via Mark Bahnisch)

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

the illiberal little f***wit’s at it again. what a great irony that some of his greatest admirers on the blogosphere are pseudonymous.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

blogs should not be treated like newspapers and MSM generally. This may sound like special pleading on my part but I think there are a number of good reasons for differential treatment
1) a blog, especially one with comments, is more like a bulletin or message board, even in some respect an email discussion list. The boundaries between these media are porous. For instance though one could argue an email discussion list is substantially different from any of the others, the fact is the archives of such lists are frequently available on a publicly accessible website (e.g. the Hayek discussion list I belonged to) Is the government going to start legislating to require people to submit their true identities too?
2) There is a special public interest rationale in allowing anonymity in the fora I mentioned because some people may for reasons related to their professional occupations be unable to participate in the Grand Discourse otherwise. Though I have taunted people like CL once or twice re their being anonymous in reality I understand they may have perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to remain anonymous and their departure would be a great loss to the Grand Discourse.
3) Against that of course such anonymity raises special issues – greater likelihood of libellous statements being made, rumours spread, etc but again blogs and other related media differ from MSM because they allow for greater speed of correction/retraction so that the damage and associated costs of libel and misrepresentation are substantially reduced in practice. Thus special dispensations should apply here.

And frankly what are the odds that if there wasn’t a John Howard Lies website, the blogosphere would have escaped notice altogether? That f***ker is such an illiberal, hypocritical little runt

Fyodor
2022 years ago

I take it you’re lapsing out of “recovery” from HHV (Howard-Hatred Virus), Jason? It doesn’t take much, does it?

Anon
2022 years ago

I wish someone would stop using my name to put up silly posts. Just as well I use Jason Soon as one of my pseudonyms to maintain balance and perspective.

Irant
2022 years ago

I think anyone using a pspeudonym to blog has something to hide. It is correct to be suspicious of such people.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Yes, this is exactly the sort of thing that was worrying me Rafe. But if the law was actually enacted as threatened, you can envisage comment box contributors posting under all sorts of pseudonyms including those of other bloggers and commenters, but not helpfully leaving a real URL to identify them (as you did). How would bloggers deal with that problem, given the immdediacy of the comment box function? Would we be forced to delete comments from people whose identity was either not disclosed or could not be verified? That would be very time-consuming and would drastically reduce the utility of comment box discussion.

I agree with Jason.

susoz
2022 years ago

I think this suggestion is a bit rich, considering the Latham Lies pamphlets distributed during the last election campaign which did not say anywhere on them that they were associated with the Liberal Party.

Gary
2022 years ago

“But if the law was actually enacted as threatened, you can envisage comment box contributors posting under all sorts of pseudonyms including those of other bloggers and commenters, but not helpfully leaving a real URL to identify them (as you did). How would bloggers deal with that problem, given the immdediacy of the comment box function?”

http://www.gravett.org/sauce/archives/006334.html
Did I deal with it correctly Ken?

Caz
Caz
2022 years ago

I don’t use my real name. Initially this was through fear of ‘doocing’ in an old job. These days its more to do with self preservation – I get all sorts of whackos routinely threatening me because we’re like fly-paper for those sorts of people. Since announcing I was pregnant, for example, some of these nutters seem to think I’m more vulnerable or something, and have sent bizarre emails regarding my foetus. I don’t want these people tracking me down and figuring out where I live just because they don’t like that my opinion of a singer/actor/band/movie/television show differs from theirs. Frankly, some of these people are scary.

The Hack, on the other hand, has reasons not to want to be identified. Sure, his boss knows he blogs and is fine with it, but given his occupation as a journalist, he generally isn’t allowed to have a public opinion on anything. Blogging offers him an outlet to let off steam and say what he really thinks.

For a site like mine, this issue is quite simple: if it became law we would just not post anything political ever again. We don’t do it often anyway, but we do it sometimes – and one would expect that participating in a democracy, we should be able to discuss politics without fear of retribution. For other political blogs, it would obviously determine whether they stay or go. I think that would be a great shame.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

let’s face it, the rationale behind these lies is bunk anyway. it’s not as if they’re really interested in reducing identity theft, or false rumours from spreading or anything like that. what difference does it make if the proprietor of johnhowardlies is or is not associated with any particular political party? people should learn to discount accordingly for bias and given multiple competing views to be found in the blogosphere, far richer than anything in the MSM and with far greater nuance,there is enough exchange for the undecided to make up their own minds irrespective of whether the opinion writer is an ALP member or whatever. am I likely to be less biased about the Prime Miniature than an ALP member because I once attended a HR Nicholls Society meeting?

this is about political reprisal, pure and simple, and about locking in the media monopolies of the crony capitalists that that little machivellian hack hands out free channels to, aided by Erica Betz.

gilmae
2022 years ago

/me shrugs.

Civil disobediance here I come

harry
harry
2022 years ago

This is the same as requiring someone who carries a sign to wave at a rally to have, on that sign, the personal details of the person who made it.

Howard wouldn’t have bothered if he wasn’t hurt by it. So, that answers Ken’s question about how much power blogs have compared with traditional media.

But sure, I’ll let you force bloggers to post details just as soon as you force OpEd writers and indeed the politicians themselves to defend their work in the blogosphere.
Bring it on, homoslice.

Nic White
2022 years ago

I think it would only apply to the actual owners of blogs, not the commenters. Just from the way it’s worded it seems to imply that.

Steve Edney
Steve Edney
2022 years ago

While it may be different in law (I’ve no idea about what the law actually states), surely the blog comments function much more like talkback radio. As far as I know there is no need for talk back radio shows to have a strong verification of who “John from Glebe” really is before they ring up and say they think “john howard is a liar” or whatever else.

This surely would be a better model for how they should be treated.

Gary
2022 years ago

What dilemma this makes for an anonymous blogger who dislikes anonymous commentators.

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=10894495&postID=110997678406518644

Andrew Bartlett
2022 years ago

It’s hard to know for sure how this would work without seeing the actual proposed wording. I must say my first view was that a measure like this is fair enough.

Most electoral materials have to be authorised (during election periods) by a person with a street address – basically so there is an identifiable person responsible for it if it breaches the law. It has been unclear if this applies to websites (as this part of the law was written a while ago), but I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t. Most political parties authorise their sites anyway, just to be safe. If you have to authorise a leaflet, I don’t see why you shouldn’t have to authorise it if the same thing is put on a website.

How such a measure might apply for comments posted on blogs and the like is another matter – which I initially hadn’t thought of.

If people have views about this, they should send something to the parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. They currently have an inquiry into the conduct of the last election and will undoubtedly give consideration to this idea, as it arises from the last election.

Go to http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/em/elect04/index.htm for more info. The date for submissions closes soon, but they usually take late submissions.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

As I recall, Rob Corr authorised the WA election comment on his site. In addition, the author of a political leaflet or advertisement doesn’t have to be the same person who takes formal responsibility for it, if my understanding of the existing electoral laws is correct.

Andrew Bartlett
2022 years ago

Authorisation is not the same as authoring. For parties, it is usually one person who authorises the lot (usually the campaign director or national secretary or the like), even if they had nothing to do with putting the stuff together (although they’d be silly not to at least look at it before it goes out).

Authorising just means the person that takes legal responsility for the item – that might mean the blog owner takes ‘responsibility’ for electoral comments of others on their site, which would be a bit of a drag.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Andrew

I’m certainly not going to give a blanket authorisation to political comments made by readers. It would be like sticking your head in a noose. If I’m forced to authorise or not host political comment, I guess I’d have the choice of either deleting the commenting facility for the duration of an election, or closely censoring all comments to ensure no objectionable content (especially in terms of the Electoral Act) appeared. Either, as you say, would be a drag, and neither in my view should be necessary for reasons explained by Jason and others on this thread.

However, if we’re just talking about authorisation rather than authoring, why do newspapers inist on letters correspondents being identified by name and real address during election campaigns? Is it because of some separate Electoral Act requirement? Or because newspaper publishers/editors sensibly decline to authorise letters, and the appending of the author’s real name and address means that he/she is authorising their own publication? No doubt I could look it up for myself, but I don’t really have time this morning, and you may have the information at your fingertips

Andrew Bartlett
2022 years ago

Ken
I’d want to double check your question before saying something people might take as definitive.

However, as with any potential law change, these sorts of questions and possible (unintended) consequences need to be explored – which is what the Electoral Matters Committee will hopefully do.

Vee
Vee
2022 years ago

I use a pseudonym. I host a blog that isn’t much chop though its invite only to it.

I use a pseudonym for a reason cos I do have something to hide.

My identity – its called privacy.

Andrew Bartlett
2022 years ago

Having finally got around to looking this up, I can say that newspapers are no longer required to show name and address for writers of letters to the editor. Nor are talkback radio callers required to be identified.

If the law is to be changed, I would hope that the same would apply to comments posted on blogs. This still doesn’t address the issue of anonymous blog authors of course.

I would strongly encourage people to make submissions to the Electoral Matters Committee on this, as there are some differing arguments which each have some validity.

The history of the Howard Government is full of examples of attempts to crack down on political opponents, and there is always the prospect that this may be another one. However, there are valid arguments for the same rules to apply to websites as apply to ‘hardcopy’ electoral material.

Also, do not discount the fact that most MPs will not have thought much about the possible ramifications of this and are not likely to unless someone draws it to their attention.

There are more bad laws made through ignorance of how they will apply than ones made through deliberate malintent. MPs won’t know unless somebody tells them.

I have served on the Electoral Matters Committee in the past and it has usually worked fairly constructively. I don’t know what the newest Chair (Tony Smith) is like, but I have no reason so far to believe he is overly partisan.

There is a comprehesive paper by the Parliamentary Library on the laws relating to electoral advertising, which can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/Library/pubs/rb/2004-05/05rb05.pdf