Saturday, December 19, 2015

New Washington state cyber-harassment law could ensnare the unwary, trample the First Amendment


Adam Schwartz of Electronic Frontier Foundation has an op-ed “EFF asks Washington State Court to protect Internet free speech”, concerning a recently enacted state law  (9/61.260) in that Pacific Northwest paradise, making it a crime to “stalk” someone electronically, that being defined as intimidating communications that are repeated, anonymous, or using bad words.  But the speech, now illegal under new state law, would be constitutionally protected. Womenslaw has a copy of the law. SkyValley has an article explaining how the "law can protect you".

It is conceivable that “bad reviews” could sometimes be illegal.  So could some behaviors on social media, especially Twitter.  Could repeatedly doing a “reply” to tweets of someone whom you follow but who doesn’t reciprocate by following you conceivably be illegal, if the other person somehow construed them as harassment because of  (steganographic or contextual) hidden meanings?  That’s troubling because some people consider that behavior on Twitter to constitute “stalking” (Dec. 4).

But what is acceptable and appropriate behavior online is an idea that keeps changing all the time anyway. But the definition of harassment lies within the mind of the target, not the speaker.

Wikipedia attribution link for Vancouver WA picture (I actually visited in 1966), by Piyo, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license.

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