May 5, 2009
Law prof Eugene Volokh blogs about a U.S. 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.” Oh lordy, there goes 4chan.
Here’s the relevant text:
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….
["Communication"] means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; …
["Electronic means"] means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.
Jacob Sullum at Reason thinks the proposed law is stupid, too.
It was bad enough that a grandstanding U.S. attorney successfully prosecuted Lori Drew, a Missouri woman who participated in a cruel MySpace prank that apparently precipitated the 2006 suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier, under an anti-hacking law that clearly was not intended for this sort of situation. Now Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and 14 of her colleagues want to make such prosecutions easier through a breathtakingly broad bill that would criminalize a wide range of speech protected by the First Amendment. The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act would make it a felony punishable by up to two years in prison to transmit an electronic communication (“including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages”) “with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person…to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior.”