Illegal to Speak Electronically to “Frighten, … Abuse, Harass, or Alarm” People “In Furtherance of Severe, Repeated, or Hostile Behavior”

The Arkansas Legislature has just passed, and sent for the governor’s signature, a bill that would make it misdemeanor “cyberbullying” to

transmit[], send[], or post[] a communication by elect[r]onic means [including computers and telephones] with the purpose to frighten, coerce, intimidate, threaten, abuse, harass, or alarm another person … in furtherance of severe, repeated, or hostile behavior toward the other person.

So it may shortly be a crime in Arkansas to:

  1. Write an online article excoriating a government official for his supposed bad behavior, because that might well be communication “with the purpose to … abuse … in furtherance of … hostile behavior.”
  2. Announce on your Facebook page that you broke up with your lover for cheating on you, and urge people to cut off ties with the liar, because that too could be acting “with the purpose … to abuse … in furtherance of … hostile behavior.”
  3. Speak online several times to organize a boycott of a business owner aimed at changing his behavior, because that would be communication “with the purpose to … coerce … in furtherance of … repeated … behavior.”
  4. Post something several times warning someone of supposed dangers to health, or dangers of crime, because that would be communication “with the purpose to frighten … or alarm … in furtherance of … repeated … behavior.”

Plus of course there’s the vagueness of the law. What exactly is a purpose to “harass”? What is “severe … behavior”? If the law isn’t supposed to cover the examples given above, what are the definitions of “abuse,” “coerce,” “frighten,” and “alarm” that keep it from covering them? Bad stuff.

I’m pleased to say that my friend and former Arkansas state Representative Dan Greenberg — who’s now with the Advance Arkansas Institute — tried to fight this bill; and after his input, the House did pass it only by a vote of 68-19, with 11 not voting and 1 “present,” while before his input the Senate passed it unanimously. See, reasoned argument works! My compliments to Representatives David Meeks and Kim Hammer for speaking out against the bill. Representative Meeks apparently referred to Dan’s article, and even to the First Amendment. As I’ve mentioned before (quoting Hilaire Belloc),

Decisive action in the hour of need
Denotes the Hero, but does not succeed.

If you want to see the debate on the bill, see the video here, from 2:23:51 to 2:30:55.

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