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Unconstitutional “Cyberbullying” Bill Proposed in House

A bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California) has been proposed in the House of Representatives that would make “cyberbullying,” as it’s been coined, illegal.

The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, named after a 13 year-old girl who committed suicide after falling victim to a cruel Myspace prank, would make it a felony to transmit “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.”

As is wont to happen when lawmakers grandstand on a current issue, the proposed bill is a legal train wreck – a half-baked piece of legislation that, if it weren’t almost guaranteed to be stricken down as unconstitutional, would be seriously dangerous to free speech.

For example, law professor Eugene Volokh can think of six examples off the top of his head where the bill would encroach on protected First Amendment speech. Under the proposed bill, perhaps even this blog post could be considered “cyberbullying.” Rep. Sanchez might find my calling her legislation “half-baked” and “a legal train wreck” emotionally distressing, and I could be prosecuted in federal court.

What’s startling to me about the bill, though, is the similarity in the language to many of the oppressive speech codes found at universities throughout the country. In particular, notice the part about “substantial emotional distress.” Just like so many confused university administrations, Rep. Sanchez seems to believe that it aught to be illegal to make someone feel bad.

The bill is essentially the uber-version of all those speech codes. It would, for all intents and purposes, make criticism of anyone illegal. Well, hey, at least we would all be living in the ”inclusive, respectful atmosphere” that universities try so hard (and sometimes illegally) to foster, right?

  1. […] more succinct is CJ Ciaramella, of the Oregon Communicator:

  2. Anonymous says:

    […] Check out the thoughts below and do your research on the bill

  3. Charlie says:

    You think that this is idiotic, what about the upcoming Senate “Hate Crimes” Bill (S.909)? If I catch someone having a go with my dog, goat, cow, horse or my neice or nephew and take physical action againt him, I can wind up doing Federal time. Or if my girlfriend swings her backpack at some exhibitionist, she can be charged with a felony where now she would be charged with a misdemeanor if anything at all.

    What’s going on here?

  4. Vincent says:

    Well, then we’d better not call them that on the blog, lest we be charged with hurting someone poor, victimized-by-the-patriarchy animal person not-of-the-homosapien-persuasion’s feelings, or something like that.

  5. Rockne Andrew Roll says:

    Blue Oregon is supporting this? Blue Oregon is the biggest conglomeration of cyber-bullies in this state. I’m living proof.

    Good thing I prefer to do my bullying in person.

    What if the livestock in the amateur porn are drug addicts?

  6. JMB says:

    How about amateur pornography involving livestock?

  7. Vincent says:

    Hm. Good point. We should instead mail her pictures of her face crudely photoshopped into pictures of livestock, drug addicts and amateur pornography.

  8. Timothy says:

    Why, it’s not like she’ll understand it, even if she can read.

  9. Vincent says:

    Slashdot is covering this story, too.

    I’m thinking we should mail a copy of the Constitution to Ms. Sanchez’s office.

  10. Betz says:

    Also, the article calls it the “Oregon Communicator” …


  11. Betz says:

    Actually, Drew, you made a really good point: Would this rule apply to just written material, or would it apply to any form of harassment?

    My example: Internet gaming. If any of you have spent 5 minutes in a gaming server like CS, TF2, Call of Duty, Halo, Madden Online, or any other server imaginable, you will find a veritable cesspool of people online, mostly minors, that have the most bile-filled, venomous things to say to one another – generally for no reason. Its no surprise that video games and immaturity go hand-in-hand with one another, and I imagine that this law would try and enforce itself in as many arenas as possible. Would calling somebody “teh suxorz” online after I pummel them senseless in whatever game I am playing be considered “harassment” under this umbrella dragnet term? All the other person has to do is to hit “record” (Many games, like Counter Strike, for exmaple, allows the user to record a digital ‘demo’ of the gameplay and all text and speech transmitted … traditionally for tournament purposes to identify potential cheaters), and send the video to the proper authorities to make a case. This would essentially make it a felony to do any kind of boasting while playing a competitive game online. REE-Dick-you-luss.

  12. nike urbanism duk says:

    Slippery slope to more surveillance justified by a invented “crisis”.

  13. thunderlove says:

    Does this mean i got to stop calling people gay on youtube?

  14. […] distressed person.” Yep, even Twitter. No mean tweeting allowed. Even more succinct is CJ Ciaramella, of the Oregon Communicator: “Rep. Sanchez seems to believe that it aught to be illegal to […]

  15. Timothy says:

    Right, I mean, why don’t we just execute EVERYONE with untreated mental illness? Sure save us a lot of public health money, that’s for sure.

  16. Sakaki says:

    It will be challenged. In fact, the ACLU has been said to be challenging it if it is passed.

    But, at least Deb Frisch will get the needle for her crimes.

  17. Vincent says:

    Why arbitrarily choose that sort of thing over another to take a stand on?

    Because who’s going to take the political risk of voting against some piece of “won’t someone just think of the children?! legislation?

    The reason this kind of garbage ends up in the legislature is that its a) uncontroversial at face value (What, you want kids to be bullied?) and b) makes it look like the people in our government are actually doing something.

    Sadly, there’s always a host of unintended side-effects like the de facto criminalization of certain kinds of speech.

    On the other hand, a cynic might wonder if such an outcome is really unintended, given all the talk about the “fairness doctrine” and all that.

  18. Ross Coyle says:

    shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both,

    Yeah I can’t wait to see that:
    “What’choo in here for, ese?”
    “I broke a mans neck after robbing his gas station.”
    “And you holmse?”
    “Yeah I called someone names on the internet.”

  19. Ross Coyle says:

    I still don’t understand how “emotional damage” is supposed to be equated to physical harm. Words are spoken and then forgotten, how hard is it to just shrug it off? I learned to do that after being called a geek for all of middle and high school, then I got over it and changed my hobbies. Now we’re putting up legislation that promotes becoming a pussy.

  20. C.T. Behemoth says:

    So much for the Commentator Blog…if it passes. hehehe

    Seriously though, that stuff is so weird to me. Why arbitrarily choose that sort of thing over another to take a stand on? I imagine that whoever comes up with such ideas knows that they’re dead before they even get out of the box, which means it’s all just political grandstanding….


  21. Vincent says:

    Unsurprisingly, the folks over at Blue Oregon are supporting anti-bullying legislation here in Oregon.

    Also unsurprisingly, Oregon Republicans seem to have been supportive of the legislation, too.

    Nice to know that both big parties support outlawing anything that hurts someone else’s feelings.

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