Verity is always thrilled to see her name in print, even if it is a very short comment on Crikey's website.
The comment was on the discussion about South Australian law that attempted to outlaw anonymous blog comments as part of political commentary. The new age internet types were horrified. However, there are two things we should look at. The first is how existing law works, and the second is about how anonymous comment can play out.
The first thing to note is that it is standard law across Australia that electoral comment has to be authorised by someone. We are used to the authorisation line on electronic and printed ads. We might forget though the additional line that appears to cover editorial content in newspapers as required by s328 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Act also covers ads on the internet and misleading or deceptive publications.
Newspapers will normally include a line as to who is taken to be publisher of the paper for these purposes. That means that if the newspaper chooses to publish material that falls foul of the law the publisher is at fault. I find it fascinating that people on the web don't realise that the same rules apply, that ultimately the person who owns a domain name and thus authorises all the content that is available on their site is the "publisher".
How the anonymous content thing can play out is also interesting, mostly because it is open to manipulation. I think I started this blog soon after reading Ender's Game in which part of the plot is a brother and sister who created two fictional characters who get involved in debate on (I think) the interweb. The point is that they create an artificial conflict between themselves which they then resolve and bring both lots of supporters along with them.
The risk factor is that the speed of network formation and expansion using online media rather than the printed word or radio is that the "swarm" can develop before there is any nterrogation of its source.
Ultimately though the correct legislative solution is not a ban on anonymous content, just a recognition that the publisher (domain owner or as otherwise delegated) remains responsibl for the content.