Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Want to Support Hulshof But . . .

In the GOP race for governor, I've been leaning toward Kenny Hulshof - mostly because I believe him to be the inevitable Republican nominee and because instead of attracting positive attention to themselves, Hulshof and his primary opponent, Sarah Steelman, have been directing negative attention to one another.  (Both Hulshof and Steelman should contrasting themselves with Jay Nixon instead of helping Nixon by intra-party bickering - but I digress.)  

I would really like to be a full-blown, 100% Hulshof supporter but today I noticed an article from Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined "Hulshof moves to criminalize cyberbullying."  His proposal would make it a federal crime for a person to use electronic communications with the "intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress" to another person.

This may seem like a good idea on the surface.  The bill is designed to criminalize the disgusting behavior of individuals who used a fake identity to taunt 13-year-old Megan Meier to the point of suicide in 2006.  Unfortunately, it would criminalize much more than that.
What constitutes "emotional distress?"  And, for that matter what is "substantial?"  And how are we going to define "intimidation" or "harassment?"

Let me paint a picture . . . let's say a blogger points out that a candidate for public office has never voted before.  Such a post could be considered "harassment" by some.  It might even cause the candidate to become upset or stressed.  Could such emotional reactions constitute "substantial emotional distress?"  We don't really know.  And we wouldn't know until such cases were litigated.  (Oh happy day for trial lawyers.)

This bill seems to be, on the one hand, little more than an effort to pander to voters upset by the Megan Meier case.  On the other hand it is a vague law that could directly infringe upon all American's First Amendment right to free speech.

No comments: