Annoying someone on Facebook could soon be a misdemeanor

A bill in Arizona is currently making headlines as paving the way for censorship all over the internet.  Arizona House Bill 2549 had been passed in the state legislature and was headed to the desk of the governor.  Now that the public is aware of the bill it is likely to be changed.  So what is so dangerous in the bill that is supposed to make online bullying illegal?

This bill would make certain speech a punishable offense thus eliminating your rights to free speech.

“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]

If this were to become law, violators could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which would result in up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.  If any kind of “stalking” is involved the punishment is a minimum of 2.5 years in prison with a maximum of 25 years in jail.  The violator would be accused of a Class 3 felony.

Arizona House Bill 2549 is meant to update anti-stalking laws based on current technology.  The problem is the vague wording of this bill.  Imagine if you were detained and given a Class 1 misdemeanor for annoying someone on Facebook or Twitter.  This bill wouldn’t just apply to Facebook however, it would apply to any website where commenting is allowed.  This includes sites like 4Chan, Reddit, YouTube, Fark, and thousands, if not millions, of other popular sites.  The offending statement does not even have to be directed to the person who is annoyed or offended.

 takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication. H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people. The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.

Thanks to technology, there are plenty of online applications for Arizona House Bill 2549.  A Facebook post which offends someone who lives in Arizona may apply.  A radio show heard by someone in Arizona may apply.  Offensive or annoying words could include cartoons, radio shows, news articles.  The question is if this bill were to be passed, how would it be stopped?

This writer is certain she has offended or annoyed at least one person with this very article.

The current governor of Arizona is Jan Brewer. You may contact her office using this form or you may call her at her Phoenix office (602) 542-4331 or at her Tucson office (520) 628-6580.

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