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May 12, 2009

Bill could mean jail for Internet flamers

Posted: 11:32 AM ET

A cyberbullying bill introduced last month has the potential to put half the Internet behind bars.

The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act is Congress' response to the 2006 suicide of a 13-year-old girl who was harassed on MySpace. The bill makes electronic communication a felony if “the intent is to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.”

Congressmen probably aren't the most Web-savvy bunch, but anyone familiar with trolling, flaming, and various other forms of online bullying could see a problem with this bill.

Network World examines the bill and explains this new breed of Internet criminal:

Given the freewheeling exchanges that characterize everything from SMS text messages and instant messaging to blogs and Web site comments, the broadly written bill potentially could turn a lot of flamers and bloggers into felons.

Amid growing online criticism, bill sponsor Rep. Linda Sanchez defended the Cyberbullying Prevention Act in a Huffington Post article this month:

Congress has no interest in censoring speech and it will not do so if it passes this bill. Put simply, this legislation would be used as a tool for a judge and jury to determine whether there is significant evidence to prove that a person "cyberbullied" another... So - bloggers, emailers, texters, spiteful exes, and those who have blogged against this bill have no fear - your words are still protected under the same American values.

While Rep. Sanchez's assurances may be comforting, judges tend to follow the wording of a law rather than its sponsor's intent. So before you text your cheating ex, slam those Apple forum fanboys, or call me a 'moron' in the comments, consider the possible consequences of this new bill, or at least put your lawyer's number on speed dial.

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Filed under: Internet • Politics


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