Is the Real Intent of Cyber-Bullying Laws to Eliminate Criticism of Politicians?

Ken over at Popehat had a great article about  a proposed cyber-bullying law in Connecticut.  While he later reports the bill may have died in committee, it is still instructive to look at it, as its twin may well get passed in AZ and many other states are proposing such laws faster than the little animals pop up in a whack-a-mole game.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that these are all stealth attempts to protect politicians and public officials from criticism.  Look at the proposed law in CT:

(a) A person commits electronic harassment when such person, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, transmits, posts, displays or disseminates, by or through an electronic communication device, radio, computer, Internet web site or similar means, to any person, a communication, image or information, which is based on the actual or perceived traits or characteristics of that person, which:
(1) Places that person in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property;
(2) Has a substantial and detrimental effect on that person's physical or mental health;
(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's academic performance, employment or other community activities or
(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's ability to participate in or benefit from any academic, professional or community-based services, activities or privileges; or
(5) Has the effect of causing substantial embarrassment or humiliation to that person within an academic or professional community.

One of the tricks of these laws is to mix and thereby conflate outrageous behavior most all of us are willing to restrict (e.g. make a credible threat to someone's life) with everyday behaviors such as annoying people.

Let's say I were to write in my blog that, say, Joe Arpaio is an jerk and should not get re-elected.  Let's analyze the statement

  • It's transmitted electronically
  • It will very likely annoy Arpaio, since he is known to be annoyed by all criticism
  • I am trying very hard to interfere with his employment by preventing his re-election

By this law, therefore, even this relatively mild criticism is illegal.   In fact, since all criticisms of politicians can be said to negatively affect their re-election chances, by part 3 any political criticism online would be illegal.

I honestly don't think this is a bug, it is a feature.  Already police departments and other public officials are using cyber-bullying laws to stomp on those who criticize them.


  1. Addie:

    The law requires "intent to harass, annoy or alarm" rather than having those qualities as the effect of the speech. I'm not an expert on criminal law, but I do not think that speech resulting in Arpaio being annoyed would be enough to prove the mens rea element of the crime. I do, however, agree with your conclusion that laws like these are intended to stifle political speech.

  2. dave:

    This goes far beyond limiting politically critical speech. I think there is a full on assault on free speech. There has been a lot of anti-bullying crap in the news all over. Why? After all, why would anybody be against bullying. It's just a ploy to limit free speech. This speaks to the self-esteem is gained through telling kids they are good, and not through achievement.

    This is a website that outlines bullying laws in each state. When I was a kid I used to say "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me". Apparently this is no longer true.

  3. Silvermine:

    And therefore, since you broke the law, the supreme court says you can be taken away in handcuffs and strip searched. So, you know, watch what you say.

  4. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in 57 States:

    In the immortal words of John McClane, "Welcome to the Party, PAL!!"

  5. lynfree:

    Yes, the unstated goal of the Arizona bill & others like it is to suppress expression. That's it. A police state - like the U.S.A. - does not have citizens. It has elites & subjects. To rule over subjects is hard work. It's even harder when your subjects think they have the freedom to think for themselves and to speak their minds.