Online bullying and harassment is a problem, but the new law passed in Utah could send online bullies and ‘others’ to jail for voicing their opinions online.
Law enforcement, school officials, and support groups are behind the new legislature introduced by Utah lawmakers, in fact, it won a unanimous vote.
However, some lawyers and a libertarian-leaning group are concerned over the language in the law, stating that it is unconstitutional and could lead to innocent people being charged with crimes. Similar laws have been deemed unconstitutional in New York and North Carolina.
Te regulation makes it a crime to post information online that can identify someone, including their name, photo, and place of employment, to “intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, frighten, or disrupt the electronic communications of another.”
According to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, Utah’s measure is a violation of the First Amendment.
“There are some situations where you might say this is punishable, especially if it’s a threat,” Volokh said. “But again, it deliberately applies to speech that doesn’t fit within any First Amendment exception.”
An advocacy group says the measure might have helped a gay Utah State University student who was afraid to come forward in 2013 to report being sexually assaulted after someone started posting his photo and phone number on Craigslist along with details on the forms of sex he was interested in.
The student hadn’t revealed publicly that he was gay and was terrified about the possibility that people would find out, said Turner Bitton of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Such cyberbullying has increased in recent years and can be especially damaging when used in relation to sexual violence, he said. – More
Because the language is so vague, according to those who are critical of the Utah law; typical online behavior, such as somebody criticizing his neighbor’s choice of house paint on Facebook, or complaining about a state lawmaker in an online comment section, could end up being thrown in jail for a year.
The law means the disgruntled house owner or lawmaker could initiate criminal proceedings by arguing that the information was posted to harass or frighten them, said David Reymann, a First Amendment lawyer in Utah.
“It’s not going to just apply to the typical stalker who is moving to an online platform to continue what we consider to be stalking,” Reymann said.
As one can see, this could be easily used for censorship. Say something is posted online to a blog or a news journal – say someone doesn’t like it, or they are offended, the individual that was offended could then initiate criminal proceedings against that person or news journal. That’s called censorship.