Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Why do good intentions wind up misused?

Last year in June, Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Consipiracy posted about the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act which had been introduced in the House of Representatives. Apparently it has been again, this time as of April 2nd, (coincidentally and totally extraneously, my birthday).

Now, readers of this blog may remember that Megan Meier was the teen in Missouri who committed suicide after being jerked around by a couple of adults pretending to be peers. Let me just say that I was appalled by that case and very sympathetic towards the girl and her family. I think cyberbullying is real, and can be just as hurtful as face-to-face bullying. There was really nothing on the books to charge the adults in this case with in terms of cyberbullying itself. So of course, the good folks in Washington are looking to make one. Unfortunately, this is a case of good intent that could go horribly wrong. I give you:
Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

I think you can see the problems here, both in terms of defining cyberbullying (you go to prison for criticising someone scathingly more than once--what will happen to our music critics?) and constitutionality (that little thing called freedom of speech, related to that thing called freedom of press). I can't imagine it would survive court tests but it would be bad to be the person skewered for the test case, too.

It's definitely one to watch, though. Lawmakers have passed worse ones.

Okay, that's all for tonight. I'm going to get some sleep. You should, too (unless you're driving cross-country or working with machinery, that is).

PS So far all the rest of the fish are alive. Here's hoping...

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