The bill, proposed by Californian Democrat Linda T. Sanchez and 14 others could make it a federal felony to use a blog, social media, or any other web medium “to cause substantial emotional distress through severe, repeated, and hostile” speech.”
Here’s the relevant text of the bill: [UPDATE: see update at the foot of the post—DK]Whoever transmits 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, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both….
["Communication"] means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; …
["Electronic means"] means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.
The breathtakingly broad Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, named after 13-year-old Megan Meier who committed suicide after been bullied online, would obviously criminalise a wide range of speech protected by the First Amendment. The fact that this bill would stifle legitimate criticism of politicians, companies and prominent figures seems to be lost on the Representative from California.
I don't think that the fact that "this bill would stifle legitimate criticism of politicians, companies and prominent figures" has been lost on those people at all: I imagine that the significance of its implications has not escaped them in the slightest.
After all, how much better could they play it? They ram through a Bill curbing the right to free speech—using the world's most deceitful rallying cry: "it's for the chiiiiiiiiiiiildren: won't somebody think of the chiiiiiiiildren?"—and thereby protect themselves from the inconvenient depredations of those evil bloggers (and other media). As a bonus, they get some leverage—through favours owed—with the "companies and prominent figures" whom they would also be helping to protect.
However, the fucking thing has to be utterly un-Constitutional, surely? It's bad law and one would hope that it would never pass and, if it did, then one would hope that the Supreme Court would overturn it in approximately 0.000012 seconds.
We don't, unfortunately, have such safeguards in this country. But then, I believe that we have a number of cyberstalking laws, etc. already, do we not?
UPDATE: as Bella Gerens pointed out to me, the original of this Bill was killed off pretty quickly last year. However, it has been reintroduced and, unlike the first one, it has got to the Committee Referral stage (although it's worth noting that two of the original sponsors have disappeared).