Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Prison Time if Your Blog Makes Somebody Feel Bad? I'm Not Making This Up

"Prison Awaiting Hostile Bloggers"
Threat Level / Privacy, Crime, and Security Online op ed, Wired (May 5, 2009)

"Proposed congressional legislation would demand up to two years in prison for those whose electronic speech is meant to 'coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.'

"Instead of prison, perhaps we should say gulag.

"The proposal by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Los Angeles, would never pass First Amendment muster, unless the U.S. Constitution was altered without us knowing. So Sanchez, and the 14 other lawmakers who signed on to the proposal, are grandstanding to show the public they care about children and are opposed to cyberbullying.

"The meaasure, H.R. 1966, is labeled the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. It's designed to target the behavior that led to last year's suicide of the 13-year-old Meier....

My take on this is that H.R. 1966 could be a well-intentioned bit of legislation - and a potential threat to free speech.

I know about Megan Meier. What happened to her is very sad: But, I think that anyone who's been even moderately active in online communities knows that there are people who are very good at being offended. As an active blogger, I don't want to face prison time because someone, among Earth's billions, (1) Read my blog; (2) Felt bad after that, and (3) Blames me.

Ridiculous? I'd like to think so, but I live in a country where this sort of warning label is fairly common:

(More, on my opinion of being 'protected,' at "Wacky Warning Labels: Off-Road Commode Wins This Year" (April 29, 2009).)

Never mind how good H.R. 1966 may make legislators and their constituents feel: Americans live in a country where manufacturers have to warn consumers that a jar of peanuts contains peanuts: or face ruinous lawsuits.

Make it illegal to make someone feel bad, with "intent" or not, and I think there's reason for concern. Except for the hypersensitive and their lawyers, of course.

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