Another Internet Harassment Law
Here’s another Internet harassment city ordinance, just as vague and hard to enforce as the others that have been in the news lately. The ordinance makes it illegal to communicate "through the Internet of any other telecommunication medium anonymously or using a false identification" [sic] in order to frighten or disturb someone else.
I see two problems with this part of the statute. First, you have to determine whether someone’s intention was to disturb. In the case of Megan Meier, the people who talked to her online claimed they were just trying to find out what she was saying about them. Whatever their intention was, we can all agree it was childish and irresponsible. But in other cases that will come up, we may have a hard time discerning the intentions of a misunderstood email or ambiguous text message.
Second, I’m guessing that everyone who has used the Internet has employed an anonymous or false identification in some context. It’s not convenient and probably not safe, either to fully identify yourself in all Internet communications. In fact, when I was a kid, teachers advised us to make up random screennames or change aspects of our identities online to avoid predators. I don’t think that was the purpose of the people who harassed Megan Meier. But when so many people present false identities on the Internet, how do you decide which are legitimate precautions and which are intended to hurt others?