Arizona legislation will make cyberbullies, Internet trolls criminals

By on April 3, 2012, 1:00 PM

Upon the Arizona governor's desk sits a revised house bill (pdf) which is ready to be signed into law. The changes in H.B 2549s aim to curb and even criminalize cyberbullying, however, it may also make nearly every chat room and comment section found on the Internet a place of illicit behavior. 

The amendments made to H.B. 2549 would make just about any annoying, harassing or offensive online comment, reply or message illegal in the state of Arizona. In other words, the time-honored vocation of Internet trolling would become a criminal offense -- a class 1 misdemeanor -- punishable by up to a $250,000 fine and 6 months in jail. 

According to The Verge, Media Coalition and other sources, what Arizona officials have done is take a telecommunications bill which was already law, cross out all references to "telephone" and replace them with "electronic or digital communications". On its face, this could be seen as a sensible thing to do considering the Internet is, at its core, a communications device. However, because people voluntarily seek out places on the Internet -- the web doesn't ring your phone until you're forced to turn it off, like a harassing phone call might -- some would argue it's quite different.

For example:

A. It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a telephone [read: electronic or digital device] and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. 

Source: azleg.gov

Realizing the potential dangers of such legislation, the Media Coalition has sent a formal request (pdf) to Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, in hopes she will veto the bill. In the letter, the organization seems to capture the essence of the issue within a couple of paragraphs.

H.B. 2549 would make it a crime to use any electronic or digital device to communicate using obscene, lewd or profane language or to suggest a lewd or lascivious act if done with intent to "annoy," "offend," "harass" or "terrify."  The legislation offers no definitions for "annoy," "offend," "harass" or "terrify."   "Electronic or digital device" is defined only as any wired or wireless communication device and multimedia storage device.  "Lewd" and "profane" are not defined in the statute or by reference.  "Lewd" is generally understood to mean lusty or sexual in nature and "profane" is generally defined as disrespectful or irreverent about religion or religious practices.

Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication. H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people.  The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted.  There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared.  Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.




User Comments: 30

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Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Wow, with the kind of comments found on techspot, they may as well make this website illigal already!

Tygerstrike said:

I see a blow to freedom of speach on this one. Some ppl can neither take a joke nor respond politely to online posts. This doesnt mean that they need 6 months in jail and a $250.000 fine. It just means their prudes thats all. Freedom of Speach is kinda nessasary for the internet to exist. If this bill goes throgh I see a Federal injunction against it happening almost immediatly since its general wording goes against the constitution.

Guest said:

This is ridiculous. There go multiplayer online games cause there is so much trash talking there.

p51d007 said:

The group "The Eagles" had a song about 20 years ago that sums it up...

GET OVER IT.

People just need to grow a pair and not be "so sensitive", but considering the helicopter

nature that parents treat kids, it's not surprising.

lipe123 said:

While bill leaves things way to vague and open to abuse I feel its a step in the right direction.

I for one am sick and tired of youtube comments that go along the lines of "why don't you go suck a *****" etc.

Trolls like that deserve punishment.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

lipe123 said:

While bill leaves things way to vague and open to abuse I feel its a step in the right direction.

I for one am sick and tired of youtube comments that go along the lines of "why don't you go suck a *****" etc.

Trolls like that deserve punishment.

You should also go to jail now after that comment...

ramonsterns said:

lipe123 said:

Trolls like that deserve punishment.

People making up and supporting stupid laws deserve punishment.

Oops, guess I'm getting punished as well.

Guest said:

This is good news that means no more Apple marketing campaign & fanboy trolls that spam the web everywhere you look at on comments sections whether you are on tech sites, Youtube, Facebook or Twitter there's all just a big bullshit Apple marketing campaign driven by Apple's marketing team and brainless fanboy zombies.

Finally "Law meets stupids". lol

Guest said:

Is it time for us to bring out our Guy Faulkes masks and march yet? Totalitarian control is coming guys!

Guest said:

2 words, CRY M0AR

treetops treetops said:

Since our governor took office when janet joined the obama squad, she has done all sorts of none sense to get attention. The immigration bill, blocked medical mariuana that we voted in, tried to make arizona the first voting state, yelled at the president when he came here, now this I bet she votes it in just for the LuL(attention)

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

I find any reference to demolition man entertaining...maybe you deserve a reward for entertaining comments and punishment for annoying ones?

On the other hand how do you judge annoying? If somebody quoted a country music song I would probably be annoyed and might wish they were in jail but that doesn't mean they deserve it... It all seems kind of absurd. And who the hell is gonna police the Internet looking for trolls or annoying comments? I'm certainly not paying for people to do that.

Tygerstrike said:

@Ranger

Now we all know that in order for them to afford to do any internet policing they will have to raise your taxes. I wonder if the Line item description will have something to the effect of: Trolls=$20.00

SumthinSacred said:

They should make it illegal, but only punishable via a fine of at most 100$, for minors. It'd curb some of the attitudes of minors plus get some money into the government. If Xbox LIVE is any indication of poor character in minors, that could really help this country crawl out of this hole we've dug. It'd be massively controversial, but with minors what rights to they actually have at that point in their lives. Most haven't even had a government class if public education is any indication.

Guest said:

Good luck with that, while I personally dislike trolls and so called cyber-bullies, but to enact such a law would directly conflict with the first amendment. You may not like what someone says, and it may even be a flat out lie or annoying, but it is their RIGHT to say it if they choose to do so.

Guest said:

Internet decency laws are solutions looking for problems and a gross violation of Freedom of Speech. These statutes have absolutely NO affect on cyber-bullying and only serve to be a lightning-rod for the ACLU and other watchdog groups, wasting taxpayers' time and money to no avail. A similar law was passed just last summer here in Tennessee, which I responded to with a "potentially offensive" portrait of our Governor Bill Haslam and his First Lady to bring attention to the issue on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/07/potentially-offen
ive-portrait-governor.html To date, not a single charge has been filed enforcing this frivolous and dangerous law including myself.

Guest said:

I'm wondering if "person" is defined to include any corporation? If so, this seems to be legislation that would essentially eliminate any criticism of companies or their products.

Mindwraith said:

I support this entirely. It's illegal to harass people in real life, it should be illegal online too.

Guest said:

There's a law against illegal copying and file sharing, but it doesn't stop people. This won't make any difference for most people - but it should allow the Police to go after systematic bullying that leads to self-harm. Facebook is likely to feel this law more than comments on news sites. Let's see how Mr Zuckerberg handles this - should be entertaining.

ramonsterns said:

Guest said:

but it should allow the Police to go after systematic bullying that leads to self-harm.

I gave myself a papercut over your comment. Enjoy your jail time.

spectrenad said:

well if it's someone bashing on the same person again and again, I think he deserves a sentence. but if it's just an angry kid in a video game...

Guest said:

While bill leaves things way to vague and open to abuse I feel its a step in the right direction.

I for one am sick and tired of youtube comments that go along the lines of "why don't you go suck a *****" etc.

Trolls like that deserve punishment.

They should make it illegal, but only punishable via a fine of at most 100$, for minors. It'd curb some of the attitudes of minors plus get some money into the government. If Xbox LIVE is any indication of poor character in minors, that could really help this country crawl out of this hole we've dug. It'd be massively controversial, but with minors what rights to they actually have at that point in their lives. Most haven't even had a government class if public education is any indication.

I support this entirely. It's illegal to harass people in real life, it should be illegal online too.

Ladies/Gentlemen, the web by it's very nature may offend your delicate sensibilities - pull the plug now before something awfully horrid happens...

What ever happened to "sticks and stones..."? So someone insults you on the web... so what? Why does someone calling someone else a name need to involve wasting taxpayers' money and lining the pockets of lawyers?

Ok let's say you're being targeted by some loser with far too much time on their hand at a certain site - probably a social networking site - so report this to the sites owners/admins...

So let's suppose your kid is on faecebook and getting insulted/trolled/stalked/"cyber bullied"/whatever... revelation: Your kid /should not/ be on faecebook. Take some responsibility instead of expecting the state to intervene for you. Block your kid from visiting that site - ban the IP address/domain, or maybe ban them from using the web without supervision...?

If all else fails consider the following: It was /you/ who took the decision to publish your real identity on a pathetic "social networking" site visible to every other web user. Don't trust big corporations - trust common sense, i.e. keep your real identity and especially your children's real identities /off/ these sites.

mopar man mopar man, TechSpot Ambassador, said:

^^^^What he said!

davislane1 davislane1 said:

Guest said:

What ever happened to "sticks and stones..."? So someone insults you on the web... so what? Why does someone calling someone else a name need to involve wasting taxpayers' money and lining the pockets of lawyers?

Ok let's say you're being targeted by some loser with far too much time on their hand at a certain site - probably a social networking site - so report this to the sites owners/admins...

So let's suppose your kid is on faecebook and getting insulted/trolled/stalked/"cyber bullied"/whatever... revelation: Your kid /should not/ be on faecebook. Take some responsibility instead of expecting the state to intervene for you. Block your kid from visiting that site - ban the IP address/domain, or maybe ban them from using the web without supervision...?

If all else fails consider the following: It was /you/ who took the decision to publish your real identity on a pathetic "social networking" site visible to every other web user. Don't trust big corporations - trust common sense, i.e. keep your real identity and especially your children's real identities /off/ these sites.

The problem with your comment is that such a logical sequence of reasoning only works in a society full of sensible adults. That species, however, is dying out and is being being rapid replaced by an adolescent-adult hybrid (body of a grown up, mind of a child). Parents regulating their children, kids being EXPECTED to /ignore/ pests & stand up to bullies, it's not acceptable anymore.

treetops treetops said:

To be fair some young kids committed suicide in Arizona due to cyber bullying, parents dont stand over there kids while they are on the net and often hide there activities. I can see there side but I cannot see why they copy pasted the phone law. What if some psyco tells your kid over the internet that mixing amonia and bleach is the best way to clean his shoes, kid dies from mustard gas? Then psyco says oh I was trolling I didnt mean any harm. Would he be held responsible with the current laws?

MilwaukeeMike said:

Man, one girl kills herself [link] and now governments think the acts that led to her suicide should be punishable.

I mean, I'm sure the internet will turn into a place where only nice people hang out after this law passes. There's no way they would be doing something like this to hold people accountable for the extreme cases of bullying that lead to suicides. Those people should be able to go free. So what if she hung herself, she should have 'gotten over it' they're only words, ffs!

Guest said:

It is impossible to tell for sure who is responsible for sending an internet communication. Legally it is not possible to attach IP address to a person. Which is good for organizations to change public opinions with paid comments, so it's not going to change. This law is just a "reaction" of the government to people's complaints, it's not going to work in reality.

example1013 said:

I've told people to go play in traffic numerous times. Must be a criminal, call the cyber police to backtrace me and lock me up.

TJGeezer said:

Mindwraith said:

I support this entirely. It's illegal to harass people in real life, it should be illegal online too.

Read the story. As the letter to the governor says: "H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared." In other words, it does not target harassment.

Politicians in legislature tend to be former prosecutors. Prosecutors build careers by getting convictions, not by helping to dispense fairness or justice. And lawyers in general still believe, all too often, that actually knowing how to use those top-of-the-line computer things on their desks for show would be beneath their exalted status.

Expecting such people to know or understand, far less care about, technology and its uses is simply unrealistic. The same goes for expecting a politician, who by definition must posture to win, to understand or care about how workable a law is.

As for violating the constitution - what constitution? Between the military, a president who seems not to care about his own promises, and the current set of Corporate Supremes on the high bench, there's not much left now of the Bill of Rights, which is what those who raise constitutional objections, are really talking about.

People who think "the system" still works at state or federal levels have their heads in the sand. Of course, one can always hope for thoughtful moderation. Good luck.

Guest said:

If you don't like what is being posted on a particular website, stop visiting that website. I know this is a novel concept for oversensitive, self-important individuals who apparently lack common sense and want to control the actions of anyone they disagree with, however, if you value the freedom and liberties that we currently enjoy, and for which our predecesors fought and died for, you might have to endure being offended from time to time. Unless someone is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to type "youtube" into your browser, you have every right to avoid that website. Quite frankly, I'm offended at your point of view regarding this issue. According to your frame of logic, or lack thereof, I should call the cops and have you incarcerated.

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