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Bill Would Declare Your Blog a Weapon 780

Mike writes "Law prof Eugene Volokh blogs about a US House of Representatives bill proposed by Rep. Linda T. Sanchez and 14 others that could make it a federal felony to use your blog, social media like MySpace and Facebook, or any other Web media 'to cause substantial emotional distress through "severe, repeated, and hostile" speech.' Rep. Sanchez and colleagues want to make it easier to prosecute any objectionable speech through a breathtakingly broad bill that would criminalize a wide range of speech protected by the First Amendment. The bill is called The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, and if passed into law (and if it survives constitutional challenge) it looks almost certain to be misused."
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Bill Would Declare Your Blog a Weapon

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  • Re:Not too worried (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HaeMaker ( 221642 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:53PM (#27834051) Homepage

    Until Apple find your criticism of the iPhone hostile.

  • by chris098 ( 536090 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:55PM (#27834105) Homepage
    There's always a fine line where free speech "goes to far". I think this bill is trying to clarify that line by imposing penalties. The bill restricts itself to situations:

    "with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person"

    The common argument is that free speech should always be free, no matter what. This bill goes against that by trying to establish some limits on free speech.

    ...but should someone be allowed to say they want to kill all members of [group X]? If so, do members of [group X] have the right to take that threat seriously and act accordingly by pre-emptively defending themselves against the threat?
  • Re:Not too worried (Score:4, Interesting)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:01PM (#27834227)

    On my website I directly attack those in the public eye--especially local politicians--using my standard colorful language choice, I link to a video of an interview where I appeared on a local public access TV show and was accused of being too harsh in my tone and language when I directly attack these people for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars [].

    Being that this proposed law mentions nothing of the right of the people to directly attack public officials (protected speech, not harassment regardless of how many times I choose to talk about their poor choices at my expense) means that I could be held liable for this and imprisoned. How cute.

    You specifically mention that this type of behavior towards the general public (not public officials) is already defined by preexisting harassment law. IOW, there is absolutely no need for this bill to be presented, discussed or passed. Why must politicians create unnecessary laws? Hey you fucking douchebags, stop wasting your time and our tax dollars formulating and discussing unnecessary legislation just so you can look better in the public eye. Assholes.

    Yes, I purposefully used the language I did to make a point--I would be arrested and imprisoned under that proposed legislation for posting what I just did. I hope I made my point.

  • by helbent ( 1244274 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:05PM (#27834297)

    What usually happens with these kinds of unconstitutional laws is they are rammed through with the authors knowing full well they won't stand up to a constitutional challenge. Think about certain aspects of the Patriot Act, the laws regarding civil asset forfiture, and the Lautenberg amendment to the Brady Bill (AKA the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban [] where you are denied 2nd amendment rights forever after having a restraining order lodged against you or being merely accused of a crime, even in absence of a conviction thereof).

    What happens is the courts pile on the charges so high that defendants are forced to settle for a plea bargain, which is how 95% of all trials are resolved. Thus laws which blatantly violate the constitution are allowed to sit on the books forever with no effective challenge against them, generating eternal revenues for the state and ensuring that a long line of semi-innocents head off to the hotel-with-barred-windows for violating some petty legal technicality. The Branch Davidians were gassed and incinerated alive for nothing more serious than an unpaid tax or unfilled-out form regarding certain firearms laws.

    The same nasty precedent set by the previous examples will be precisely how it plays out here. Not only will this law pass but it will be misused and abused left and right, and nobody will cut it off because that would stop the gravy train.

  • Re:Not too worried (Score:5, Interesting)

    by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:05PM (#27834303) Homepage

    If someone is obviously and intentionally harassing someone else, I have no problem with them having legal recourse.

    Oh really? Define "obviously and intentionally harassing" in a legalistic manner that is so clear cut that it cannot be abused, misused, or given an extremely broad interpretation? If I post a scathing blog indicting the Ku Klux Klan and a Klan member finds it harassing, can my blog be shut down? Last year, the Canadian government prosecuted someone for "hate speech" because they were critical of Islam, and some Muslims found it offensive. Do you really want to start down this road?

    Folks like you scare me. You think just because *you* can easily define things like "harassment" that everybody else conforms to your definition of the word. You don't think beyond your own idea of the concept, and you're willing to trade First Amendment protections because of it. Frightening. Truly frightening.

  • by minsk ( 805035 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:10PM (#27834411)

    If I were going to propose one rule to be enshrined in a constitution, it would be banning any emotional appeal in justifying a law. This will, hopefully, get shot down. But we all know that anyone opposing it will be attacked with "they don't care about cyber-bullying".

    Maybe there is actually a case to be made for restricting speech to prevent online bullying. We'll never know, because these nitwits took one unfortunate example and ran off in a fit of paranoia. Even a more reasonable compromise would still be tainted by this idiocy.

    Between "save the children", "stop the terrorists", and "save the whales" (natural and financial), it is amazing that any freedoms remain.

  • Re:Not too worried (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flitty ( 981864 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:20PM (#27834613)
    Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad disagrees with you.. oh, and as recently as 2008.. (from wikipedia)

    Blackwater sued the City of San Diego to force the city to issue them a certificate of occupancy for its training facility in Otay Mesa before the plan went through the city's public review process. "U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff ruled in Blackwater's favor. Blackwater is a person and has a right to due process under the law and would suffer significant damage due to not being able to start on its $400 million Navy contract."

  • Re:Not too worried (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rary ( 566291 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:29PM (#27834785)

    "Person" in that sentence refers to a juristic person []. They have many of the rights of a "real" person, but not all of them. You still can't be charged with harassing a corporation.

  • Um you might be wrong, unfortunately. Obama has four justices that will rubber stamp anything he signs.

    Where on earth did you come up with that craziness? Do you have any evidence for this astounding assertion?
  • Re:Not too worried (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fwr ( 69372 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:33PM (#27834847)
    No, I didn't RFTA, but I would have to assume that the law is geared towards harrassing speech at a particular person, not a group, company, policy, product, religion, or I would even say, race, sexual perversion, etc. This is specifically with the knowledge and understanding that companies are considered "people" for certain legal issues - they would be exempt from this particular type of harrassment. To use your example, you can criticize the KKK all you want, but if you are vindictive against a particular KKK member by the name of John Doe who lives at 123 KKK Lane and repeatedly harrass them, they should have some recourse to spot that harrassment. You should not be able to "stalk" them on-line any more than you could stalk them in the normal sense of the term. Again, without RTFA I can't say for sure, but if this is just bringing reaction to activities on-line on par with the reaction people would have with similar actions outside of the Internet then I wouldn't have a problem with it. If it is attempting to make activities on-line illegal, when similar activities are not illegal now outside of the Internet, then it would be a growth of government, which I would be against.
  • by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:37PM (#27834913) Journal

    Actually, yes.

    We have representatives in congress, and they perform their jobs based on their personal beliefs and attitudes, as well as the perceived wishes of their constituency. If the constituents fail to make noise when it's warranted, then they're being lax in their responsibilities as citizens.

    And, in my experience at least, my congresscritters do actually pay attention when I write them about things; at very least, I get a message back explaining the representative/sentator's position on the issue. Calling is effective, too.

    If you do nothing because you're cynical, then nothing ever gets better.

  • by SGDarkKnight ( 253157 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:44PM (#27835069)

    If you don't like the things I say in my blog, wouldn't the most rational reaction be to simply don't fucking read it???

    This comment sorta reminds me of a story some researchers did a while back about Howard Stern. Their findings came to two intresting conclusions; the average listner who enjoyed his show, would listen for around 20 minutes a day; the average person who hated his show and couldn't stand him, would listen for roughly 45 minutes a day (granted my numbers may be a bit off, but i'm fairly certain they are pretty damn close).

  • by khellendros1984 ( 792761 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:02PM (#27835437) Journal
    Why wouldn't this be covered under laws for harassment or libel or something? Why do we need a special law because it's suddenly on the internet?
  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:58PM (#27836523)
    Prosecutors in that case struggled to find an applicable law, and eventually decided to abuse an old anti-hacking law.

    I don't see why they didn't just use a murder/manslaughter law. A person acted with the intent of causing harm to another, and in the commission of that harm, a death resulted. And numerous laws on child abuse could be applied. An adult acted to deliberately harm a minor, and in the course of that harm, a death resulted.

    Libel is about the harm done to the reputation of the speech's subject (indirect harm due to the effect of the speech on third parties). This bill is about the harm done to the emotional state of the speech's subject (direct harm; the effect of the speech on the subject).

    I find it funny that so many people are OK protecting indirect harm, like defamation, but direct harm, like emotional abuse, and "get over it" is all they come up with.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @04:34PM (#27837131) Homepage Journal

    [looking] At a guess, she mighta been the chubby girl who got snubbed in high school, and now she gets her revenge...

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @06:39PM (#27839153) Homepage

    "I don't like you, thus I find your content objectionable" and suddenly you committed a felony.

    Why not? That's how sexual harassment works.


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