Joanna Schroeder hates trolls as much as the next online magazine editor, but thinks the new bill before Arizona’s governor goes too far.
As much as I love the idea of slapping a lawsuit upon some of the a-holes trolling around the web, this is a little scary.
Arizona House Bill 2549 passed both legislative houses last Thursday and is now awaiting approval from Arizona’s governor Brewer. The statute states that:
“It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.”[emphasis added]
Emphasis added. If the electronic devices and means are employed to stalk a victim, the penalty bumps up to a Class 3 felony.
For those not intimately familiar with Arizona penal law, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to six months in jail (it’s the most aggressive misdemeanor charge the state can bring). A Class 3 felony, meanwhile, carries a minimum sentence of 2.5 years for non-dangerous offenders with no prior record. And a max of 25 years in jail.
Just yesterday I was fascinated by an article on Kotaku.com by Tim Rogers, who is the founder and director of Action Button Entertainment, which creates video games. He writes about the unbelievably stupid, hurtful, and pointless hate mail (nine out of ten comments are hate-filled) he gets every day on his YouTube videos:
I delete hateful comments from my YouTube videos. If I don’t, people who like me will start to defend me. Then people who don’t like me will start to accuse the people who like me of actuallybeing me posting from an alternate account. Like I have time for that.
Here are the things people complain about in their hate comments:
- My Glasses: “I bet you don’t even need those glasses” is the most common—and most bewildering—form of the comment.
- My American Apparel clothing: “Fuck off back to American Apparel” was one I deleted just two hours ago.
- My hair: it is often simply described as “horrible” and “ugly”. It is just as often described as “stupid”.
- My voice: it is often described as “dumb”, “stupid”, or “gay”.
- My mustache: it was described as a “hipster mustache”, a “Dirty Sanchez” (what an idiotic euphemism), a “pube stache”, a “molestache”, or simply “gay”.
- My pink sweater.
We’ve been really lucky here at GMP that while we have our very opinionated, less-than-nuanced, somewhat graceless, sometimes completely just wrong commenters from time-to-time, we don’t get a whole ton of this type of trolling. And man, are we grateful or that.
But even if I did start to see more trolling here, I cannot imagine that a $250,000 fine or up to 25 years in jail is even remotely appropriate for someone repeatedly telling me I have “lesbian hair” (heard that, makes no sense, but thanks anyway?) or that I’m a man-hater (I’m obviously not, so that hurt a little). However, in the case of bullying and hate-speech online in cases like Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate secretly filmed and distributed footage of Clementi during a romantic encounter with another man, you can start to see where extremely legislation is coming from… But the impact upon free speech is just too big of a price to pay.
What do you guys think? Should trolling be illegal? Should online bullying hold a much harsher penalty?
Do you think the governor of Arizona will sign said bill?
Image courtesy of Benimoto