For those who have perused the internet for any considerable amount of time will tell you, it really does bring out the worst in people. The ‘invisible man‘ syndrome is on full display when you visit most sites that offer the ability to comment, or join a forum. Why bother adhering to the decency of society when no one can see you? I doubt H.G. Wells ever considered the theme of his sci-fi novella coming to real life. Especially in the scope that the internet provides.
Arizona is combating internet trolling, albeit in an inadvertent and dangerous fashion, with Arizona House Bill 2549. For anyone who understands how freedom of speech works in conjunction with the internet; this bill absolutely reeks. Here’s the clause everyone is up in arms over…
“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any 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.”
When you read it in this simple form, you begin scratching your head and wonder how the Arizona congress could be so clueless. It’s the wording of “any electronic or digital device” which is worrisome. If you begin to dig deeper it’s pretty obvious where things went awry.
The link I posted above leads you to a PDF of the bill in its purest form, where you see that the original bill was constructed to prevent harassment by use of the telephone. The clause I posted above begins to look a whole lot different when you’re talking about the law protecting against telephone harassment.
I don’t think anyone wants to support the right for someone to call another person directly and harass them, or annoy them. However, the wording leaves a lot to the imagination even when dealing with a phone conversation. I think if the lawmakers left out the words “annoy or offend”, there probably wouldn’t be much to make over this.
For those who are well versed on first amendment rights, internet policy, and communication methods utilized online, this bill represents the worst kind of slippery slope. If someone wanted to be creative they could use this bill as ammunition for anything they didn’t like being said.
Imagine if I posted an update on Facebook stating, “President Obama is a pedantic old fart, and hates the United States“, and then someone comes along and tells me, “What a ridiculously stupid comment, why are you acting so foolish? Stop spewing hatred“… Um, excuse me, this person has just annoyed me and I don’t like it. Oh, we both happen to live in Arizona, where HB 2549 states that I have a right not to be annoyed by someone using an electronic or digital device for communication. I guess it’s time to call the police. Technically, the law would be on my side. A judge would probably laugh me out of court, but I’d still have enough to bring about charges.
This is a ridiculous scenario of course, but that’s the point. The language of law is important, as it can open up ridiculous situations and allow laws which were once drafted to protect us be turned into a joke. The bill has made it through both houses of the Arizona congress, and only has Governor Brewer to stop it. Please, just take a second to reword some of the language.
No one likes the invisible man, but it doesn’t mean he deserves to be shot in the face.