Cause distress, go to jail

Prison Awaiting Hostile Bloggers, writes David Kravets on Wired.

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.”

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Los Angeles, must know this will be shot down on First Amendment muster, he writes. So it’s just a way for legislators to show they’re down on cyberbullying, such as the hoax that lead to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier.

Sanchez’s bill goes way beyond cyberbullying and comes close to making it a federal offense to log onto the internet or use the telephone. The methods of communication where hostile speech is banned include e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones and text messages.

We can’t say what we think of Sanchez’s proposal. Doing so would clearly get us two years in solitary confinement.

If it becomes illegal to “cause substantial emotional distress,” everyone’s in trouble but the Trappists.

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Comments

  1. Only the Trappists won’t fall into this trap!

  2. If your ill-considered spoof attempt to harass and hound a child leads to her death, you should be responsible for that result, even if it means a stint in jail or financial penalty for wrongful death.

    If you are not willing to be responsible for the consequences of your actions, then you legitimize those people who want to restrict your speech prior to the fact, just in case you hurt people or cause damage with it.

    You can’t have it both ways. If you want freedom, then you have to be responsible for the consequences of your actions.

  3. Hi, Steve. You’re cute.

  4. The irony of this is that, if accounts of the behavior of the deceased are to be believed, the mentally-unstable Megan Meier would have been among the first people punished under this law had it been in effect at the time.

  5. In the immortal words of Simon Phoenix (played by Wesley Snipes in “Demolition Man”) “You can’t take away people’s right to be a**holes.”

    But those trappists… such good bread… drives me insane!!!!!!!!! Prosecute them!!!!!

  6. Richard Nieporent says:

    Stephen, unlike Canada we have the First Amendment that protects “offensive” speech. Free speech is too important a concept to give up in order to redress the bizarre hoax perpetrated by Lori Drew. By the way, what you think about your “human rights” commissions that attempt to stop “hate speech” by suppressing free speech.

  7. There is a special place in Hell reserved for legislators who disregard their oaths and do not independently judge the constitutionality of their actions. I like to think it involves getting the words “LET THE COURTS DECIDE” inscribed all over them in molten brass, or something similar.

  8. Oh, brother. As I wrote today, don’t hold a grudge, get over it, move on.

  9. Andromeda says:

    You know how legislation like that makes me feel? Substantially emotionally distressed.

  10. Tracy W says:

    Stephen Dowes:If your ill-considered spoof attempt to harass and hound a child leads to her death, you should be responsible for that result, even if it means a stint in jail or financial penalty for wrongful death.

    There’s a difference here between moral responsibility and legal responsibility. Lori Drew is morally responsible for that result, at least by my moral code (strict determinists presumably hold no one responsible). If Lori Drew wants to give her entire wealth away to Megan Meier’s family or make some other painful sacrifice in acknowledgment of her moral responsibility I would understand and approve – of course I would prefer that she had never done it in the first place. But legal responsibility is not necessarily the same as moral responsibility. If legally holding someone responsible for a serious crime cannot be charged without suppressing a lot more good things in society, then that law should not be passed.

    If you are not willing to be responsible for the consequences of your actions, then you legitimize those people who want to restrict your speech prior to the fact, just in case you hurt people or cause damage with it.

    I disagree with this assertion. I think that regardless of whether Lori Drew had ever existed or not, it would still be legitimate to argue in favour of restrictions of speech – I think that we can only trust the case for freedom of speech if we hear the strongest arguments that anyone can make against it. However even though Lori Drew did exist and did commit her crime, I still don’t think that freedom of speech should be restricted in that way.

    In other words, I consider that it has always been legitimate to argue for restrictions on speech, and it was and still is bad policy to put forward those sorts of restrictions Rep. Linda Sanchez has.

    If you want freedom, then you have to be responsible for the consequences of your actions.

    So if a girl politely dumps a guy, and he goes nuts anyway and rapes her, is she responsible for her rape? If a man leaves Islam, and a fanatic hunts him down and kills him for his apostasy, was the man exercising his religious freedom responsible for the fanatic’s decision? Was Martin Luther King responsible for his own assassination because he worked for racial equality and that really upset a lot of racists?

    We can’t be responsible for all the consequences of our actions. It’s a fascinating moral question of which ones we should be responsible for. The general rule appears to be that if some human being chooses a response to an action of ours, then we’re not responsible for that consequence, with a myraid of exceptions however (eg if I ran at someone waving a bloody knife and screaming I was going to cut their heart out, and they killed me in self-defence, arguably I was responsible for my death). But as far as I can tell no blanket rule applies.

  11. Relax folks, some dork from one side or the other will introduce something like this now and then. It is intended to get the person proposing a few minutes of attention. It won’t make it out of committee.

    atlas

  12. BadaBing says:

    Obi-Wandreas:

    Thanks for referencing one of my all-time favorites, but I think it was the Dennis Leary character that uttered those sage words.

  13. Atlas, thank for your condescension. As a former legislative staff attorney, I’ll be sure to check my obviously uninformed opinion of grandstanding legislators at the door, and realize that process will always save us all. McCain-Feingold? Must’ve been my imagination.

    The point is not where the bill goes: the point is that no one who takes their oath seriously would ever even conceive of such a thing.

  14. “There’s a difference here between moral responsibility and legal responsibility.”

    There’s also a difference between civil and criminal responsibility, and between degrees thereof. It seems to be a point often lost in discussing Lori Drew.