Former publisher’s bill would have compelled newspapers to ID commenters

The Spokesman-Review
A panel in Idaho’s legislature rejected a bill that would have forced newspapers to disclose the identities of commenters in the event of a lawsuit, Betsy Z. Russell reports in The Spokesman-Review. Last summer, Idaho Judge John Patrick Luster ordered The Spokesman-Review to reveal the name of a commenter after a Kootenai County politician sued the paper, saying she’d been libeled in a comments section in a blog post.

That commenter revealed herself before it came to that. But there’s an interesting footnote to the story of the rejected bill: It was submitted by Rep. Stephen Hartgen, the former publisher of The Twin Falls (Idaho) Times-News. When a fellow representative asked Hartgen why the legislature needed to get involved in “rules within the judicial system,” Hartgen replied that Luster’s ruling was “narrow.” “This is an area of the law which has evolved to the point where anonymous blog comments are part of our daily life,” Russell reports he said. (Here’s a copy of his bill, which misstates the name of the politician whose suit inspired it, red meat for an anonymous commenter if I’ve ever seen it.)

Anonymous commenters have been a focus of Hartgen’s before: He drafted a bill in 2008 that would have required both bloggers and commenters to post under their real names, Kevin Richert reported at the time.

RelatedResearchers: Online commenters impair readers’ scientific literacy | Retiring Ohio congressman hates Cleveland.com commenters |Anonymous comments can be ‘a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity’ | Why we’ll never stop struggling over comment sections

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