People who use fake names to bully others online could face criminal penalties under a bill passed Monday by the House of Delegates.
Delegates approved the proposal (HB4207) by a vote of 92-3, saying they want to target cyberbullies who anonymously make threats from behind the computer screen. But civil liberties advocates say the bill is written so broadly, it could criminalize constitutionally protected speech.
The proposal would make it illegal for computer users to impersonate someone else online with the intent of causing “physical or emotional injury.”
It also would outlaw online impersonation if someone pretends to be a public servant, attempts to commit fraud, or tries to obtain a benefit.
The ACLU is already on the case. Watch out, Hippie Killer– they are coming for you!
In all seriousness, if this bill pertains to commenters as well as blog owners, it will be a complete disaster and I can not see how it would be allowed to stand by the courts.
This is great news…for me!
I will poop on the lawn on anyone who votes for this.
This is so stupid. Hardly anyone online uses their real name, and almost anything anyone says in a chat room could be considered intended to cause “emotional injury”.
The internet without anonymous spite would suck indeed.
Anyone catch Mary Rosh’s take on this?
I would just like to state for the record that I will fully support the defendant’s side in the upcoming landmark case, United States v. Brick Oven Bill.
I am screwed. Malkin will be after every last one of us. Time to change my phone number…
I guess this means I have to quit berating the Duke of Wellington online unless I use my real name.
DougJ is fucked.
What, exactly, defines a “public servant”? Can anyone be more specific? Is this anyone with a gov’t job?
This just stikes me as ineffective. The article says that the intent of this legislation is to protect kids from harrassment, but there are other, more immediately effective ways to do that. And aren’t there already fraud laws in place covering the potential for scams?
I suppose the advantage in this legislation is that kids who bully other kids are made accountable for their actions. But it seems to me that the schools could do that themselves, if they wanted to get serious about bullying. Maybe the proper thing to do would be to target the schools with legislation, rather than the bullies, and require them to crack down on bullying.
Looks like Biggus Dickus and his wife Incontinentia Buttocks will finally get some relief from the relentless slandering they suffer every day in the interwebs.
I get where this is coming from.
But it sounds like the cure may be worse than the disease.
This is in response to the MySpace/Facebook suicide case in Illinois, right? (I may have the wrong state) Because there was no other applicable statute on the books, and the lady got off with a slap on the wrist.
Edit: Me and JoeNumbers think alike. Apparently Missouri is the state
Sadly, No!’s commentariat would be Althosed.
I don’t think there’s a chance in hell this will advance in the Senate, since the bill’s co-signer is listed as “Hugh G. Rection.”
There are degrees for everything. If you call someone a poop-head in an IRC chat, and he tries to press charges… well, good luck. By contrast, if you log in under someone else’s Facebook account and message that person’s wife saying you’re filing for divorce, or something equivalent, there’s a case to be made. Especially depending on the ensuing fall-out.
The bottom line here is enforcement.
How on earth are you going to prove Person A was impersonating Person B online. Dust a keyboard for prints? Good freak’n luck. Unless the individual comes right out and confesses, or leaves a data trail a mile long, there’s no way you’ll be able to stick a case of cyber-impersonation in court.
A Mom Anon
Oh Please,how the hell would they prosecute this? Aren’t the courts and law enforcement kinda busy with other things? Dear gawd,anyone can be offended or pissed off by what someone says on the internet. If you don’t want to be offended,stay the hell offline,pull down your Facebook or blog and walk the fuck outside and do something else. Or ban assholes from your web pages,you do have that option.
I have a 15 yr old son. He does not have unlimited internet access,no cell phone with texting,no facebook,no blog,and yet somehow he’s not underprivledged or technologically ignorant. Nor is he being cyberbullied,hmm,funny how that works. He actually uses the internet to,oh,LEARN things. Like playing music,finding info for tests and keeping his grandparents informed about what he’s up to. Amazing!
Just hide behind 7 proxies. Problem solved.
Schools already have enough invasive jurisdiction in kids’ lives. I really don’t want some principal or guidance councilor poking around on Facebook and assembling some kind of blacklist. That can get ridiculously power trippy and political really fast.
I mean, ultimately, there’s just not much you can do in these cases short of locking your kid up in a box to save him/her from other kids. Children are cruel. It’s a constant reality of life since the beginning of time. But state laws against internet harassment aren’t going to spare kids from rival kids with potty mouths anymore than state laws against theft are going to spare convenience stores from kids who shoplift candy bars.
The New York Crank
This could be used to silence any anonymous political commentator. For example:”He is inflicting emotional distress on me by calling me ‘an obstreperous congressman.'”
Some anonymous commentators would have to stop commenting in order to keep their jobs. Others (like me) would lose the kind of persona that enables them to distinctively brand themselves.
It’s a stinking law! There! I’ve just inflicted emotional distress on its supporters. Come and arrest me!
Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank
The Grand Panjandrum
That would bar most of Congress from ever being online. I guess this law might have a silver lining.
So this bill would make it illegal to cause emotional harm to someone else while under a pseudonym?
…Have these people been to the internet? They’ve just outlawed all online interaction that isn’t porn.
So do away with laws? Or do away with unenforceable laws, like against shoplifting?
In many cases, the schools’ hands are tied because what happens is occuring off-campus. Even when they do try to punish bullies, parents are more than willing to take their precious little angels to court to defend their “free speech” rights. The schools argue that these actions are causing problems during school hours, but they’re still losing a lot of these online bullying cases.
Not that I don’t think schools are all that great about preventing bullying, but in the case of online bullying, current laws are not equipped to deal clearly with the situation.
Hmm, I can see preventing someone from impersonating another, although that would be mighty difficult to prove. This does not seem to restrict pseudonyms.
Although, I suppose it would prevent you from using someone else’s pseudonym.
@Zifnab: Anti-bullying measures already in place in schools don’t involve principals or guidance councillors poking around in Facebook, blacklists, or any “invasive jurisdiction” at all. The parents of the bullied child approach the school and discuss the matter with the principal and/or teacher. The principal/teacher take it from there. And it’s a good bet that at least the teacher is already aware at that point that there’s friction between the kids in question.
Furthermore, online bullying can make for a clearer case — the parents and child can print out the offending message(s) and present that as evidence of the bullying.
Yes, kids are cruel. And that behavior is not acceptable. And schools are doing something about it.
Bill E Pilgrim
In the meantime: Hilarious.
Gotta love the French.
JohnSmith473893290218232 says: You ugly and yo breath stank.
Bill E Pilgrim
People are clearly having much more fun on the Internets than I ever realized.
You’ll never work in this town again.
Hero? Sub? Grinder? Gut Bomb? Sammich? By any other name we’re talkin lunchtime.
The law only affects West Virginia. Good luck extraditing me down there after my crime spree of remorselessly calling people assholes online.
Okay, it’s only in West (BY GOD!) Virginia. Cool. There’s nobody in West Virginia whom I intend to call any names anyway.
licensed to kill time
Emo driven knee jerk response legislative attempt to regulate behavior – what could go wrong o_O ?
How do you make schools responsible for online bullying?
I agree that the law is probably too broad, but I understand what they are attempting to do.
By the way, some laws being pushed by the movie and recording industry are similar in some ways to what is proposed here, but more draconian. I heard a music industry attorney talk about “fair use” and how a tavern owner might be able to post a band’s performance — filmed at his venue — on his website, as long as any comments about the band were positive. But if a poster, anonymous or otherwise, posted disparaging comments, then the band could seek relief and prohibit the posting.
This is all an elaborate ruse to feed commenters to Tunch.
@The Grand Panjandrum:
This law would definitely seem to suffer from both overbreadth and vagueness (yup, they’re different, go to law school, hippie!) but it does seem to be an understandable reaction to the frustration of the Megan Meier situation. (Maybe like the other Megan’s Law, which had good intentions but unleashed a whole case study in the law of unintended consequences). If you try to imagine that you have a teenage daughter who maybe doesn’t fit in too well at school, has some pyschological problems anyway and gets bullied on top of that, and then one of those bullies AND HER MOTHER (that’s the part that kills me) creates an elaborate hoax over the course of months that eventually drives your daughter to killing yourself, then find out that there’s not really a statute that covers that kind of behavior, I think you’d lobby all out for this kind of thing if you weren’t already doing time for killing a certain teenage neighbor AND HER MOTHER. At a minimum, though, I think you’d have to craft the law so that the victim had to show demonstrable harm (not the kind of harm that results from people calling you a moran).
@jibeaux: Sadly, that was a case in which mob action would be preferable to a new law.
Stamping out the fetish for pseudonymity on the intertubes would probably be a good thing on balance, but trying to legally prohibit it doesn’t seem like a great idea.
causing “…emotional injury”
I just want to get on record here. DougJ, when in full spoof comment mode (e.g., GOP4ME), caused me much emotional injury and was annoying as hell. But I don’t think that should be illegal.
Yeah, mob justice is underrated. :) Well, maybe not mob justice exactly but at least some sort of abiding sense of group-enforced shame, like Asian cultures have.
At the same time, threats are not Constitutionally protected speech. If Megan’s case had involved even a fairly idle threat of harm and the authorities could identify the perpetrator, they could be prosecuted even if they never hurt her. But since it involved an incredibly cruel elaborate hoax resulting in self-harm, it didn’t fall into that category. Morally it’s a pretty meaningless distinction, but it’s a legal loophole.
Your livelihood shouldn’t depend on what you post on the internet on your own time, but without pseuds for many people it would.
Blocking e-mail accounts, changing screen names, adjusting parental controls, deleting facebook etc. accounts, to name a few. And then there’s the ever-popular confronting the other kid’s parents directly.
Easy. As I pointed out above, online bullying leaves a paper trail, making it even easier to address than unwitnessed instances that degenerate into he-said/she-said arguments. As long as the students and/or parents are willing to take the matter to the school authorities, and said authorities are willing to establish rules against bullying and enforce them, it’s pretty straightforward.
Much as it would pain me, I would, too. With gusto.
I can’t apply for welfare anymore using L33t-speak names? No more M1ck3y M. W3lf4r3qu33n – now I’m gonna have to go out and commit welfare & Medicare fraud the ole fashion way.
I am so screwed.
Ah! You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny!
Did I just break a law?
@Joey Maloney: I think that’s actually the case I had in mind.
@Ash Can: If it’s that easy, you don’t really have to change much of anything. The system is already in place to counter cyber bullying. But, in this case, it’s the parents being proactive with the administrators. I’m more worried about Maloney’s case, where the teachers / principals / whomever start actively spying on students. Giving schools the power to exercise authority against students for actions taken entirely off campus is – in my opinion – generally a bad idea. That way lies teacher cyber bullying.
Lord Byron (formerly AWS)
Because I can cause so much physical injury via a series of tubes connected to a computer.
Only in West Virginia. Which makes me suspicious that John Cole is behind this. I mean, who here hasn’t called him a name or disparaged him for his naked mopping? Or Tunch for his…er, large bones? Of course, Lovely Lily is so beautiful and sweet, no one feels the need to make fun of her.
I support anonymity and legal protections for whistle blowers. I do not think everyone who shoots off his mouth online is entitled to such considerations.
Maybe things are different where you live, but I get the sense that anti-bullying rules are subject to a lot of subjective enforcement. E.g. – the student from the lower socio-economic class (or perhaps with the lower grades) is presumed to be at fault.
School administrators and particularly teachers are very poor law enforcement officials. Students are accorded few rights, are presumed guilty on the basis of perceptions of past behavior, don’t get to know who their accusers are, aren’t allowed to have their parents present during questioning, etc…
That’s a system that doesn’t work.
I know someone that quit posting on a forum because he had a very mild disagreement with someone else. He felt bullied. Kids have been shunning other kids forever — in rare cases this led to suicide. If it happens to your kid, it’s a real problem. However, prior restraint of everyone’s free speech rights is not a solution.
RE: Such as?
Kinda hard to confront another kid’s parents directly when the poster is anonymous or operating under an assumed identity. Harder still when it is an adult pretending to be a child.
RE: How do you make schools responsible for online bullying?
I doubt that it is as easy as you say. And if the online bullying is not happening on school computers, how in the world is it the school’s responsibility to enforce this?
Just a note about that that isn’t in the link, it was on Wait, Wait this past weekend and supposedly the inappropriate behavior was popping what they thought was pills. Which were Mike ‘n’ Ikes. In his own damn home. Redeeculous.
Man, don’t anyone tell these people about 4chan.
Then how are we supposed to know you really are who you say you are “Mike”? Time to pony up and fax in your credenzas.
Thus throwing away centuries of history around anonymous speech.
We like to think that anonymity/pseudonymity has been this high-brow thing, but not always. There have been assholes throughout history. You just didn’t have easy access to their assholery.
Why not? If I say that GW Bush or Barack Obama is an idiot, it is not always the case that I want my employer or my client to know what I think. I have worked for people who would have fired me on the spot had they known my opinions on various subjects. Since they had nothing to do with my job, I simply never discussed those subjects at work. Now you say I shouldn’t discuss them at home either?
This bill is just an excuse for giving law enforcement the power to examine anyone’s computer they want, for any reason or no reason. Once they have this power, it will be used to punish political opponents, to deter dissent, and to prosecute poor schleps whose bodies are needed to feed the prison industry. Remember that once law enforcement has probable cause to search, anything it finds — even if totally unrelated to the reason used to justify the initial search — becomes fair game for prosecution.
@Ash Can: The big thing that’s being missed here, is that all too often school administrations are unwilling to take on bullying for one simple reason.
They like the bully more than the bullied.
When we think of bullying in our culture, we think of the Nelson Muntz. The big oaf with lots of personal problems who gets off on unleashing them on other people. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In my experience, bullies are just as likely (if not more so) to be considered to be successful students in their environment, and the bullied are seen as being not so successful.
If such a case had an interest to bringing the guilty to justice, it could be handled under existing harassment laws. But all of this is just after-the-fact excuse making for the simple fact that there was no interest in bringing the guilty to justice, or more-so, in their minds the guilty party already WAS brought to justice.
When she hung herself.
@Ash Can: I do volunteer tech. The majority of my end users are teens. We do come up against issues and the staff handles them beautifully.
I was wondering what you think about making all communications on Facebook public? Now, a parent can’t find out if a kid and a group are doing anything together online that could lead to danger. Wouldn’t it also make it harder for preditors (sp?) to fool kids if an adult is able to see the posts?
@Maude: It would just mean that teens would have to find some way to get accounts that grups couldn’t spy on. Might take them 30 seconds.
Seriously. Have any of these people ever read any Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, or Alexander Hamilton? And these are just American examples of what would be “anonymous internet posters using fake names” of their times.
I am wondering if the profile of people who would support a bill such as this is the same as the profile of those who think government is too big and powerful?
I need my credenza to support my fat ass, thank you.
How many among us had their blood pressure rise because of the Brick’s comments? I smell a class action lawsuit.
@geg6: Yep. “Publius” indeed.
No. But your question, it was rhetorical, no?
The easy access is the point. Pseudonymity on the web isn’t the equivalent of the writing of the Federalist Papers. It’s more like wearing a mask while taking part in a protest march and while that’s not automatically a bad thing, there are situations where it becomes problematic.
Who decides where this line is drawn? This is always the problem with “reasonable” restrictions on speech.
The internet is not your home. Unless you are restricting access to your online discussion, it is in the public sphere.
Speak for yourself.
That’s why, in my first post, I said this law struck me as ineffective. And it’s also why I make the qualification that the schools themselves have to be willing to address the issue. If they aren’t, then it’s more appropriate, not to mention more effective, to place requirements on the schools through legislation, rather than strictures on the bulliers.
@Mark: Things are absolutely different where I live. Maybe we’re just particularly lucky in the Chicago area, but your concerns would be unwarranted here. And I’m betting they’d be unwarranted in many, many other places too. We’ve all heard horror stories in the news about isolated instances of what you describe, but unless and until you have first-hand experience as a parent or as a (current or recent) student, it’s difficult to judge, and you can’t assume if-one-then-all.
Which is why I said trying to legally prohibit pseudonymity doesn’t sound like a great idea.
OT: holy crap, the AP speaks the truth about filibusters! and it ends with this zinger:
Sorry, I didn’t realize I was speaking with Tron.
Some of it is. I would guess that in 1787 there was a bunch of pseudonymous crap being published as well.
John Cole is a poopyhead!
(THIS IS NOT A PSEUDONYM!!!11!!)
Very true. I was talking more about bullying in general than anonymous bullying. And in that, I’m assuming instances in which there’s been ongoing friction and the bullier is easily identifiable.
It’s easy only if the school is on the same page. If the school authorities are reluctant to crack down on bullying, no, it definitely won’t be easy.
Good schools put their students front and center. If there’s trouble between two kids, the teachers/administrators will address it, because you can rest assured the trouble’s going to spill over into the classroom. If a student goes to a teacher with a problem, or if a parent comes to the principal with a problem, it’s taken seriously, and solutions are sought. Good teachers and administrators are trained to handle these situations. Parents approach teachers and administrators with off-campus concerns of all kinds, all the time. It’s part of the job.
@Omnes Omnibus: The ‘net is absolutely today’s equivalent of the 1700s printing press. If an ordinary citizen wants to get something read, putting it on the ‘net is the way to do so.
@Tonal Crow: That was rather my point.
@Karmakin: It can’t be stressed enough. The school itself must be willing to address the problem of bullying, in a serious manner. If the school isn’t willing, then I believe further measures are called for. Those further measures may not be a perfect, or even a substantial, solution, but if they do any good at all — if they make just a few more teachers and principals aware of the problem — then they’ve done good.
And, needless to say, those further measures need to address the issue of childhood bullying very specifically, to avoid problems of sanctions spilling over into areas where they’re not warranted. According to the article that John has linked, the West Virginia legislation in question may not do that, and I fully agree that’s a problem.
Fuck, you might as well shut down the internet – there’s no point if you can’t harrass somebody anonymously.
It’s pretty goddamned awful. I helped admin a 200k+ member webforum for years and dealt with a lot of trolls, but I did internet detectivery on my own, I didn’t want the courts involved in pathetic sockpuppetry.
I also don’t want to be goddamned arrested if I decide to troll Breitbart’s or similar trashy sites.
What a brilliant idea!
Thank goodness there are no easy-to-use proxy wares to render online commenters practically untraceable … & no computers in public spaces like libraries that are available to anyone, all day, every day.
Was this legislation by any chance originally drafted by Ted Stevens?
J. Michael Neal
Porn. The internet will always have a purpose.
Oh, I’m sure they’re getting a crash introduction to everyone’s favorite child-pornography-themed ESL site about now. This is just pure /b/-tard bait. I give the WV legislature a day at most before the pool’s closed.
Said it better than I could have. As I remember, well, all of grade school (5 different schools in 13 years), the administration couldn’t care less about protecting kids from bullying. They just wanted things to run smoothly (something I have varying levels of empathy for, depending on how overworked they are). Unfortunately, the easiest way to keep the boat from rocking is to actively enforce existing power structures. So that’s what they did — help the bullies (almost equivalently: “cool kids”). Give them more authority and they will simply use it to help the bullies even more. Don’t think I’ll ever forget the lesson I learned when my high school vice principal kindly informed another student I had ratted him out for threatening someone with a switchblade: unless a power structure actively threatens authority, it becomes symbiotic.
I tend to think pseudonymity is more destructive than constructive, but agree that legislation is probably not the best way to go about it. For myself, I just found pseudonymity made me snarkier and ruder, not “more free to express controversial opinions”… but I think everybody needs to decide that on their own.
I think it’s up to individual communities to encourage/discourage pseudonymity and codes of conduct (see Ta-Nehisi). As I don’t have kids, I don’t know the state of letting children on the intertubes… but I wonder if parents couldn’t be given some control of only allowing people with verified identities to contact their kids on myspace of whatever?
@Maude: I’m torn. Now, being a semi-Luddite myself, I have no idea how Facebook works. I’m assuming that it has functions that allow the user to place limitations on his/her site that allow only certain, approved people to see that page. In a perfect world, the parent would request approval, for purposes of monitoring the activities and making sure nothing untoward is happening, and the child would grant it. Now, I’m old, but not too old to remember what it’s like to be an adolescent and teenager, and that sort of thing simply ain’t gonna happen. Making everything public destroys the closeness of the camaraderie on Facebook, but as far as making it possible for adults to monitor the proceedings, it may be the least objectionable solution.
As kids grow up, they’ll always look for ways to explore the world around them on their own, without Mom and Dad hovering over their shoulders, at the ready to pass judgment on what they’re doing. That’s the way of the world. And it’s the way of the world that we parents will never be able to keep our kids perfectly safe at all times, especially as they get older and set out on their own. It’s an unresolvable dilemma. All we can do is rig the system so that the odds are the best they can be. Maybe it means making the Internet so open and so accessible that kids are restricted to more old-fashioned settings such as face-to-face and the telephone when they want more privacy. Ultimately, it depends on the kid himself/herself and the judgment of the parents, but there’s no sure thing, as much as we parents would like there to be.
Shouldn’t this post be signed “Written by an Englishman”?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but did we not hear last summer about a 15-year-old kid in St. Charles, Il who hung himself because he was bullied? And the school denied that there was any bullying? The kid had a physical disability and was into heavy metal and it made him the subject of constant physical and verbal abuse.
Your implication is that there has been a massive change not only in the written rules against bullying, but also in the attitudes and behaviors of teachers and administrators. I don’t see it. Teachers are in a position of power over essentially powerless youth – they power-trip and abuse their authority all the time. And they disdain children who are different, weaker or poorer than the norm – not unlike society at large.
I think the error is not mine in presuming that they exhibit the same prejudices as everyone else, but yours in presuming that they are different.
The ACLU? But… but… they side with Grover Norquist sometimes!
But this is not the kind of communication that is at issue. We’re not talking about kids, or even adults, doing blogging (Internet pamphleteering), like Alexander Hamilton penning some of the Federalist Papers.
We’re talking about the kinds of anonymous slurs that, when openly made by someone, might have had the same impact as Hamilton’s openly made insults to Aaron Burr.
@Brachiator: Whisper and innuendo are as old as time.
That’s right, bitches, I’M BACK FROM THE DEAD and here to tell you that all of you can SUCK MY WITHERED DEAD COCK.
You are all hopelessly inadequate, and worthy of nothing more than being ground up into chum to feed people on welfare, AND THAT’S WHAT I’M GONNA DO WHEN I WIN MY THIRD TERM, BITCHES. YOU ARE ALL GONNA BE SOLYENT MOTHERFUCKING GREEN.
Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids
I’d humbly suggest that parents monitoring their kids on Facebook is symptomatic of the increasing tendency of refusing to let kids grow up. Parents who want their kids to be independent and well-adjusted might understandably be concerned and want to see what their kids are doing online, but will know to keep it at arm’s length. I see the Total Facebook Awareness idea as more to the liking of the kind of parents who would track their kids with GPS — it really only makes sense if there are already serious underlying trust issues. Or, since this discussion started about a law, perhaps parental notification laws are a good analogy (unnecessary in healthy families, a boon to abusers), except I think we’re talking about norms and not laws at this point. Again, remember that in the case that apparently motivated this stupid law, one of the offenders was A PARENT helping her little precious gang up on the loser.
Last I checked, it’s perfectly legal for me to call you an asshole and say you’re full of fail to your face. Yes, you could punch me for it, but last I checked, that’s illegal (I think the term is “assault”). So legal activity IRL should be illegal on the ‘tubes because it doesn’t afford you the opportunity to engage in illegal retribution? Am I getting your argument right?
ALL: TITS OR GTFO
People have been saying bad things about other people for centuries. Graffiti is anonymous speech. A handbill typed on a typewriter, or hand-printed and posted on a wall or pole.
Not all anonymous speech is high-value political speech, but you have to protect the bad to preserve the good, else there’s none of it.
Sure, there are situations where it’s problematic, but that doesn’t mean you legislate against speech.
BTW, I’ve often said that free speech on the internet will go bye-bye as soon as some congressperson’s daughter is the focus of some internet-based bullying.
What is everybody all worked up about?
I for one welcome our new Dolores Umbridge overlords.
@Mark: Fair enough. I was basing my claim on my experience with our own neighborhood school and the few schools around the suburbs that I’ve heard from other parents have zero-tolerance policies toward bullying. I don’t know for sure which schools crack down on bullying, or how many of them actually do.
So is a good ass kicking.
What’s your point?
And so, what would you do about a parent helping her little precious gang up on the loser?
But the point is that you wouldn’t call me an asshole to my face. Not in a million years. Proximity, and the uncertainty as to what my response might be — social convention — would prevent you.
No. Even if you want to play intellectual libertarian, the question is — in the absence of law, however stupid, what Internet social convention can best minimize people abusing the cloak of anonymity to do what they would not do face to face?
And, by the way, when Burr killed Hamilton, dueling was illegal in New Jersey. The law does not always save you.
Isn’t the point of having free speech that you don’t need anonymity to be protected from retribution?
@Brachiator: That’s the theory — perhaps. In practice, this kind of statute will become a tool for suppressing “undesirable” speech and for generalized search and seizure of computers, cellphones, and similar networking devices.
That is, perhaps the first uses will be for what most people would consider genuine harassment, such as death threats (which are already illegal). But then the working definition of “intent of causing physical or emotional injury” will get expanded to cover “I’m gonna beat you up!”, then “I’m strongly considering beating you up”, then “I’ve considered beating you up”, then to “Why you %(*&$(*&$”, and eventually to “You’re a fat slob!”.
At the same time, the offenders’ computers will be seized and searched, and some will be prosecuted for possessing pirated music and movies, for “sexting” provocative photos of themselves to their friends, for conducting Romeo-and-Juliet romances (which constitute registrable sex offenses in some states), and possibly for “terrorism”-related offenses for writing diaries containing violent fantasies.
This is realism, not paranoia. The history of restrictions on speech is replete with this kind of overreaching.
You just have to be careful with cause and effect.
This happened with Columbine, remember? There was a story that took hold that the shooters had been ostracized and bullied. That turned out not to be true, or to the extent it was true, (admittedly maybe not knowable, kids sometimes circle the wagons, and they’re as susceptible as adults to a good story, or easy “explanation” ) it actually didn’t drive the violence.
A lot of behavior by juveniles has been criminalized. I think we should be very, very careful before adding to that list.
Send it to court is the easy answer, the politically popular answer, but it creates a lot of problems. Courts aren’t good at dealing with social problems, particularly with teenagers.
I’d really, really think before I’d go in this direction.
From now on you should just hack a water-loogie up on the Duke’s beef.
I was unaware that it was government’s proper role to act as our nanny.
The point of the First Amendment is that the *government* cannot suppress your speech. Anonymity/pseudonymity protects you from retribution by other actors.
@arguingwithsignposts: Anonymity also protects you from direct governmental retribution.
I’m asking that “someone has to do something” shouldn’t always end with “let’s write up a new crime!”.
These stories are tragic. The response shouldn’t make matters worse.
Just on a practical level this could be a disaster, First Amendment concerns aside. I don’t even know what “emotional harm” means. I suspect it means vastly different things to different people.
Reading comprehension: you fail it. First part you quoted was in response to the notion that the solution is parental monitoring.
But the point is that you wouldn’t call me an asshole to my face. Not in a million years. Proximity, and the uncertainty as to what my response might be—social convention—would prevent you.
Okay, then, internet tough-guy. I get it. You’re big and strong, so I wouldn’t dare insult you to your face ’cause I should be afraid you’ll use violence in response to hurt feelings. And if I’m a big tough guy and you’re a scrawny wimp, I can insult and demean you at will, since, after all, social convention often says that’s okay and uncertainty isn’t much of a factor unless I need to worry that you’re on a violent hair-trigger and packing heat.
No. Even if you want to play intellectual libertarian, the question is—in the absence of law, however stupid, what Internet social convention can best minimize people abusing the cloak of anonymity to do what they would not do face to face?
I really, really hope I am misunderstanding you, so I’ll ask for clarification again. Are you really saying that we need the force of law on the internet to replace the force of threatened extralegal violence (some might call it “bullying”) we have IRL to enforce social norms?
BTW, if you want to *do* something to deter this (and other) infringements of freedom of speech, please donate to the ACLU.
@Brachiator: Point was that bullying and gossip are not a function of the internet. They existed before the ‘net and will continue to exist after the ‘net is replaced by some new technology. If pseudonymity on the net is abolished or restricted, those who are using it to bully others will simply find a new avenue to use. At the same time, those who use pseudonymity for good not evil will be harmed. Eliminating pseudonymity will not accomplish the goal of decreasing bullying and it will cause harm to other interests. I say it is a bad idea. See Tonal Crow at 106 among others for more.
Indeed. Additionally, anonymity and pseudonymity can be protections against bullying. Witness Malkin’s pastime of outing people who make intemperate remarks so her minions can physically threaten them. A law like this would be a wonderful handout to bullies everywhere, since it saves them the trouble of figuring out someone’s identity and they can go straight to the ass-kicking.
If internet bullying is outlawed, the prisons will fill up with bullies who have free internet access from prison and too much time on their hands.
That’s going to end well.
@Tonal Crow – You’ve got it exactly right.
Just like in other states, there are many bloggers in West Virginia who use pseudonyms.
If this bill passes in the current form it will open up a huge can of worms. Any prosecutor in the state could use the law as a tool to unmask a blogger or commenter. They wouldn’t have to win a conviction to achieve political goals–just tying up a newspaper, blog, blogger, or commenter in court would achieve a lot.
As to those speaking out against pseudonyms here, you’ll be interested in knowing the European Union actually recommends using them as one of the 17 Golden Rules for safe online surfing (see pg. 35 of report Online As It Happens)
An aside: as we increasingly rely upon computers, cellphones, and similar devices to aid our acquisition, processing, and storage of information, will there come a point at which we generally consider such devices integral to our freedom of *thought*? If so, what legal consequences should flow from that?
@arguingwithsignposts: True, but if people are going to cite the Federalist Papers as a reason for anonymity/pseudonymity, it seems important to note that they did actually put protection for that kind of thing in the Constitution.
What we’re talking about here is about “not getting fired for or being embarrassed by vile things I’ve said on the internet”… more than anything having to do with political protests and such. It’s a factor, but it seems like a lot smaller deal than defenders are making it.
I do want to reiterate that I see no reason for a new law at this point.
I would bet the NSA can find out who you are no matter how many proxies you use.
You are so right!!!!!
One only has to look at how anti terrorism laws and “expanded procedures” are being used by local police against the suspects of street crime.
Brachiator is arguing for the camel’s nose to get inside the tent.
That is no doubt largely true. It doesn’t, however, follow that we should give up and jump on the bandwagon to eliminate all remaining vestiges of online privacy.
Oh, I don’t know about that. I subscribe to the slippery slope argument regarding internet speech.
There are a LOT of people who would be fearful of speaking up online if their identity were attached to what they say, and I would guess the amount that is “vile” is actually the smaller percentage.
Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion
If we outlaw pseudonyms, only outlaws will have pseudonyms!
Seriously, however, some of those arguing here in favor of restricting anonymity on the web are demonstrating a remarkable ignorance both of American law and history.
@Karmakin: Agreed. I was bullied constantly throughout school (elementary to senior high school). My parents tried to talk to various people, but nothing ever got done about it. I have friends with kids in school now (in different states), and not much has changed.
In addition, I don’t agree with zero-tolerance policies, either, because they just put a blanket on the issue. There is an endemic problem in our society with bullying and whatnot. Laws like this will do jackshit to change any of that as long as our society is structured as it is.
@kay: I agree that laws may not be the best way to go, but kids are fucking cruel. Like I said, I was mercilessly bullied when I was a kid, and it was one reason I was severely depressed at the time. Not the only one, of course, but a major factor. Our society still doesn’t deal well with bullying. Look at Congress. Bullying gets applauded. The media laps it up when the Republicans bully the Democrats.
This law is just a band-aid solution to a very complex problem.
@Ash Can: But in the case of cyberbullying, the schools have more to prove in order to justify their actions in a court of law. They have to prove that the actions, even if done off-campus and after school hours, caused a significant (highly subjective term, IMO) disturbance within the school that would impede student learning and daily operations. The school also has to prove that the online actions were direct threats to the bullied student, again impeding the bullied student’s ability to function in the school environment.
I think one of the biggest problems in the case of cyberbullying and enforcement is that even administrators in many schools are simply not computer literate enough to understand the mechanics of the situation. And because schools are becoming more and more afraid of being targets for lawsuits, they’re instituting blanket policies or zero tolerance policies that just make the situation worse due to their vague, overreaching language or language that doesn’t address specific cases well enough in the eyes of a court.
I read about a case from 2006 that was brought to court where a student created fake profiles on Facebook for the school and principal. Not necessarily a bullying case, but originally the ruling favored the actions of the school in suspending the child for causing a major disruption. Later, a review of the case reversed the decision, citing the investigation of the incident by the administration as being the cause of the major disturbance and not the actual web activity, therefore violating the student’s free speech rights. Could you imagine being accused of causing more disturbance in your school for investigating an incident rather than the person who sparked it all in the first place? Can you see how sometimes administrators hands are tied in cases of cyberbullying and internet activity?
I’m not saying that there aren’t cases where adminstrators and teachers favor the bully because of class, race, or connections. I went to and later worked at that school. I had friends who were told in the early nineties to put up with what today would be treated as serious sexual harrassment. And don’t discount the growing mentality that “kids these days” need to just learn to suck it up, take it as a learning experience, and “not be such pussies” from people who have no idea what kind of pressure children are under socially and academically in today’s schools.
RE: But the point is that you wouldn’t call me an asshole to my face. Not in a million years. Proximity, and the uncertainty as to what my response might be—social convention—would prevent you.
Man, you are dense. Interesting reversal here. My point was not that I was big and strong and easily subject to hurt feelings. The point is that in the real world that you and I live in, people rarely call other people assholes to their faces. All kinds of social rules prohibit it.
On the other hand, it is usually people who are cowards in real life who get off on hurling insults anonymously on the Web. And it is a special kind of coward who tries to hide behind what is legal to try to rationalize his or her own boorish behavior.
And even if you were bigger and tougher than me, you would not call me an asshole to my face, for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with whether my feelings might be hurt.
RE: No. Even if you want to play intellectual libertarian, the question is—in the absence of law, however stupid, what Internet social convention can best minimize people abusing the cloak of anonymity to do what they would not do face to face?
I simply asked what you offer as an alternative to law. I mentioned in an earlier post that I thought that the law was overly broad. Didn’t you read that? However, I don’t look at the Internet as some vague libertarian paradise. Human behavior is human behavior, sometimes brutish, sometimes noble. The Intertubes don’t change this fact. Even Balloon Juice operates by rules and sometimes doles out punishments. No one is told that they either have to put up with everything or leave.
here’s why i use a pseudonym online: i don’t want you to know what my name is.
Again, I ask: have you read any sort of history at all? Because you seem to think that the pseudonymous writing of the 1740s through the 1820s was all high minded public policy writing. I hate to break it to you people, but there were absolutely no differences in the pseudonymous writing of the Revolution/Early Republic and today, with the exception of the delivery system. There were, of course, many high minded public policy types. But there were also gossips and bullies and liars and people giving TMI, just like today.
The Internet hasn’t changed anything about any of this. Nothing.At.All.
And for people with kids who are so concerned for them being bullied or lied about on the Internet, I have some advice before you take my free speech rights as an adult. Keep your damn kids off the Internet or monitor what they do. But the idea that I have to worry about a lawsuit or being arrested because parents can’t do their jobs is ridiculous and irresponsible on the part of the so-called parents.
@Brachiator: There is no particular reason that identical social rules should govern online and offline interactions. The realms offer different capabilities and carry different risks. Calling someone an asshole in person generally has a different (and usually much greater) impact than doing so online, for obvious reasons.
I see this statute as a very invasive response to a problem that is best addressed by parents teaching children to exercise greater empathy, and by parents doing so themselves.
It is not government’s role to “protect” us from all hazards. It is, however, our role to protect ourselves from the hazard of overreaching governments.
Apologies for everything being out of order. Kinda going train of thought.
Fair enough. Some initial suggestions:
1. The Banhammer in extreme cases
2. Don’t Feed The Trolls (YMMV)
3. Killfile: use it
Obviously all sorts of informal rules govern all social interactions. What I so strongly object to is the notion that there is any legitimacy to backing these informal rules up with violence. I misunderstood the meaning of “the uncertainty as to what my response might be” to be something beyond calling me an asshole back. If that makes me dense, then guilty as charged. (I am curious to know what that is other than the threat violence, though.) So I will rephrase my objection: if the threat of violence is not what enforces these social norms IRL, why are they suddenly unenforceable online? What makes anonymous online interation different from anonymous IRL interaction? It’s not like people go around with their names floating above them.
Well, thank you for granting me the benefit of the doubt. (Tongue slightly in cheek but not intended as snark.) You’re somewhat right, I wouldn’t call you an asshole to your face out of nowhere IRL. If I thought you were being an asshole, though (and I don’t think you’re being one here on the webz, FWIW), I would call you out on it unless some threat of retribution for not holding my tongue prevented me from doing so. Maybe it’s just the social circles I run in, but I think when someone is being an asshole you should call them on it.
No, I did not. I missed that post previously. Mea culpa. So what are you arguing for, then? A more narrowly-tailored version of the law?
I actually agree completely. This is why I don’t think it makes any sense to restrict speech on the Internet more than elsewhere. If anything, it should be less restricted due to the comparative ease of ignoring people and the unlikelihood of it turning violent. The problem isn’t the Internet or anonymity. The problem is harassment.
So I guess, short answer: my alternative to law is informal social norms, same enforcement (or lack thereof) as IRL.
While I am not familiar with that case, my 23 yrs in public schools have taught me that only incompetent administrators get their hands tied.
Like the web cam, or the strip search cases, some administrator easily get on a high horse and over reach common sense, let alone their actual authority.
Smart school boards and the lawyers win more than they lose.
*Few hands are tied.*
Not only a tiresome cliche, but a total misreading of my posts.
That’s odd. I never advocated the elimination of pseudonymity. I simply pointed out that posters here are mixing apples and kiwi fruit. Lots of high minded stuff about potential Hamiltons and Madisons being stifled if they cannot operate anonymously on the InterTubes that have nothing to do with the reality of boors, bullies and psychos also using anonymity to harass and hurt people.
I think some people are missing the distinction between anonymity and pseudonymity. “John Cole” might as well be a pseudonym. Best of fucking luck figuring out which John Cole he is.
You’ll hate this, because it sounds unsympathetic, but it’s not.
There’s a lot of data on suicides, and kids who kill themselves have really serious disorders. I rep juveniles, and I go to a lot of seminars, etc, although I am by no means a “mental health professional”, and teenage suicide is studied a lot. There’s reams of stuff out there.
As you said, bullying can exacerbate that, (and did, with your depression) but it isn’t a straight line: bullying = suicides.
If we want to prevent suicide, I’d start with treating the kid with the disorder. That’s a subset of kids. They’re not the norm. I’d go with treating the depression rather than worrying about the internet.
For the rest, this is also a little controversial, but I have come to believe it might be worthwhile to spend less time protecting them and more time teaching them how to protect themselves, from bullies.
I want them to hit back. Not blindly, not preemptively, but sometimes, they have to hit back, all by themselves.
I don’t want them dependent on adult intervention, for a couple of reasons. 1. it just makes them feel weaker and more powerless when they have to be “rescued” (in my experience) , and 2. adults are distracted nitwits, and they fail.
But, we agree. Kids are mean. Not all of them, but some.
@kay: It’s definitely not a straight line at all. Like I said, it was already there. The problem with your scenario is that most adults aren’t interesting in helping kids who are bullied help themselves in any way. They won’t protect the kids, and they don’t tell the kids how to protect themselves. The one time I got a girl to stop bullying me is when I yanked her head back by the hair and told her I would kill her if she bothered me again. She left me alone after that, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. And, school is a breeding ground for bullying. There can be ways to change that, but I don’t see any interest in doing that en masse.
Back in my day, there were no representatives for kids at all. My parents were immigrants who did not know how to deal with the American school system. My parents told me to just ignore it–which was impossible. Plus, cultural diversity wasn’t even a notion back then. It was all-around fail.
The only thing I would quibble with is that I would work on the depression AND the bullying at the same time. Fixing the depression isn’t necessarily going to stop the bullying.
Can’t we all just get along?
Hey, I’ll cop to the tiresome cliche and I actually hope I am misreading you. Having read:
Made me think you wanted to regulate against hurt feelings or to create the kinds of constraints on speech that happened in the UK. Now, I know you are not advocating a restrictions on the words, but on the method of delivery. Yet, the two types of restrictions may end up with the same type of unfortunate results: Less speech all around.
A few decades before Burr killed Hamilton over a personal and one might add successful (the greater sin?) attack, Silence Dogood, Harry Meanwell, Alice Addertongue, Richard Saunders, and Timothy Turnstone all added their wit, wisdom and occasional sharp-tongued barbs to the colonial ether.
They all were Ben Franklin. During the Revolution Franklin (calling himself American Guesser) offered the famous rattle snake cartoon as a symbol for the American colonies. Years later, Washington Irving wrote using Geoffrey Crayon as a pseudonym.
In speech, the bad comes with the good. I hope I *am* misreading you.
All good points, especially the new immigrant dilemma. That’s new for me here, but I’m starting to get it. We have a Laotian immigrant population that are brand new, and I’m on this huge learning curve with them. They are bringing me food, so we’re well on our way to cultural harmony, I figure.
I just worry about depression (for example) being treated as a side effect of an environment. You probably know more about it that I do, because yours has been successfully treated, but if I told you you were “depressed” because you had a lousy work environment or no friends, you’d correct me, right? You’d tell me it’s a treatable disorder and getting a new job (or new school) isn’t going to fix it. So why doesn’t that apply here?
There was a case a coupla years ago, in Missouri, where the DA determined he couldn’t charge the bullies because he couldn’t establish a causal relationship between the bullying and the suicide.
I was relieved.
It sucks that the girl (and her mother, actually) went unpunished, but do we really want to go down that road?
Who caused someone elses suicide? Can we do that analysis?
Imagine how big and ugly that could get. I have this horror vision of pulling in siblings of the suicide for questioning.
Actually, as any number of people in this thread have been saying, Publius and Asshole go hand in hand. One cannot really eliminate one without severely restricting the other.
As far as my suggesting that you had advocated the elimination of pseudonymity, I believe it was a reasonable inference based on the tenor of your comments. If that was an error, I apologize. Nevertheless, you speak of comparing apples and kiwis; the rest of us are talking about fruit.
This is one of those topics I remember well from Con Law; in the end, there are deep philosophical differences between free speech absolutists and those who would accept some regulation. So I will bow out as I don’t see this group resolving the issue. Cheers.
I wasn’t clear. I’m not arguing in favor of this law. I’m arguing against the notion that somehow schools take bullying seriously.
I graduated from high school 15 years ago, so I was just on the leading edge of the zero tolerance era. Teachers loved it because they could accuse a student of something that fell under zero tolerance (for example, me having a wrench in my backpack to work on my friggin science project qualified as a weapon) and it became a capital case where a student had no rights. Essentially, it made it easier for teachers to bully students; that’s hardly an environment in which bullying is treated as a significant problem and dealt with appropriately.
Well, I re-read your comment and it’s clear. I just misunderstood you.
The zero tolerance on weapons is a great example of how stupid it gets.
I hated school, so I completely sympathize with the idea that it shouldn’t be, but often is, a kind of obstacle course. I was lucky enough to have 6 siblings, I’m in the younger half of that group, so I was considered “a baby” by the others and enjoyed a kind of protection in numbers. Certain of my older sibs were sort of faux badasses at the time, so I wasn’t bullied.
Except by certain teachers. I never fully got over it, I don’t know: maybe I arrived there with it. I still choke a little when I have to extend respect to people I don’t respect, but I can control it a little better now.
Just Some Fuckhead
Can’t pass financial reform, health care reform or climate change legislation but we can put more restrictions on free speech.
This is why no one likes Democrats.
Wait, this is West Virginia? Who gives a fuck? Like those people know how to write or use computers. Sheesh.
This has been asserted, but it’s not be ably demonstrated. I presume there are few in this thread who think pseudonymity should protect you if you are openly planning murder or engaging in some other form of conspiracy to commit wrongdoing in a public forum… so, except for the hardcore libertarians, we already are quite comfortable with restrictions. This Publius talk is a red herring.
The question is whether you think “harassment” should be a punishable crime… and if so, why should the internet specifically be place where harassment should be allowed to run free?
@J.W. Hamner: … and you pull me back in.
Let me turn the tables here. Design me a law that punishes harassers, but has no chilling effect on political speech.
I’m no lawyer, but there are many harassment laws on the books, no? I’m not sure anyone has ever alleged that they have had a “chilling effect on political speech” because there are limits to how much I can follow you around and yell at you. I’m also not aware of a spate innocent bar room arguments that have been prosecuted under harassment statutes in a verified slippery slope.
@J.W. Hamner: This confounds two questions: (1) whether online speech should be eligible for use as probable cause to investigate what might be a crime in-progress; and (2) whether online speech should sometimes *constitute* a crime.
Using speech as probable cause to investigate a crime in-progress is not, per se, a “restriction” on speech, It can, however, become one if it is simply a pretext for a dragnet, if “crime in-progress” is defined overly-broadly, or if “probable cause” is defined as “because the authorities feel like it”.
Switching topics, you assert that “[t]his Publius talk is a red herring”. I disagree. The Supreme Court has used “Publius” reasoning — often under the shorthand terms “chilling effect” or “overbreadth doctrine” — to limit or invalidate scores of statutes under the 1st Amendment. See, e.g., McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995), which contains this gem:
BTW, the opinion also mentions — yes — Publius.
Beyond all that, why is it that most people here use pseudonyms? Maybe because it liberates us to take controversial stances? Or is it just because we want to be free to bully, harass, and threaten each other?
Just Some Fuckhead
My real name is stupid.
As I mentioned above, I’m no lawyer, so me attempting to debate Supreme Court precedent isn’t going to be useful for any of us.
All I know is that there are numerous Western democracies that are much more restrictive on free speech than we are, and I don’t find them particularly “chilled”… I presume Eugene Volokh disagrees with this.
I don’t think members of a community join it so they can harass each other… but nevertheless think the liberation angle is overrated. For myself it mainly liberated me to be more of a jerk than I would be in person.
Regardless, I do think that trolling/stalking could escalate to a level where I think there should be consequences beyond a ban hammer.
Post of the Decade. Good work.
I do. Particularly Britain (e.g., very low burden of proof for libel, resulting in libel tourism) and Canada (e.g., very broad definition of “hate speech”). And I am happy to work hard to prevent America from going down those roads.
Nice sidestep. Wanna dance?
That anecdote says pretty much zero about what online anonymity does for the 400,000,000 people in America who are not you.
The Tim Channel
Excellent. There is nothing to fear from this law. It’s not like you are truly anonymous anyway. You only have the ILLUSION of anonymity. Flush all the rats out into the open.
I’m not sure what you are asking for. I think it’s self-evident that the high profile unmoderated comment systems with no -barrier to entry are complete cesspools. If there is a publius buried in those seas of garbage, then nobody is ever going to know it. So it seems, it a complete Wild West scenario, our baser selves emerge and, yes, people are commenting pretty much soley to “bully, harass, and threaten each other”.
Conversely, the most heavily moderated “membership required” comment systems are universally considered the best. See Ta-Nehisi Coates versus, say… Matt Yglesias. Not that there aren’t great commentors over st Yglesias’s place, but at least 50% have gotta be trolls… and the rest are people who think arguing with and insulting trolls is fun. It would seem obvious that this serves as a barrier to commenting to some… and I suspect vastly more than need pseudonymity for protection.
So I really just don’t see any evidence that you need unlimited wankery for valuable speech to emerge.
Which is not to say that I think that we need government regulation of internet speech… just that I still think the Federalist Papers are a red herring. I also think that it’s possible to treat someone in a way on the internet that deserves criminal sanction.