Arizona Anti-Online Bullying Bill Stifles Free Speech, Says Critics

A new bipartisan bill wants to combat online bullying but is so poorly defined in its wording that it goes too far, according to some critics. The legislation is co-sponsored by Arizona State Reps. Ted Vogt and Vic Williams, both Republicans representing Tucson, along with strong support from House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix), Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley (D-Tucson) and Rep. Terri Proud (R-Tucson).

The bill, which has already passed through Arizona’s legislature, is so broad in its definitions of online bullying that many feel it could stifle free speech online, particularly discussions related to political satire, sports trash-talking, and other types of communication. The bill takes Arizona’s existing law against annoying, offensive, harassing and threatening phone calls and broadens it to encompass anything online.

Arizona House Bill 2549 currently awaits the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer.

Trade group Media Coalition, which protects the First Amendment rights of content industries, has been campaigning against the bill throughout the process.

In a March 29 letter to Gov. Brewer it wrote "Bill Maher’s stand up routines and Jon Stewart’s nightly comedy program, Ann Coulter’s books criticizing liberals and Christopher Hitchens’ expressions of his disdain for religion, Stephen King’s novels or the Halloween films all could be subject to this legislation. Even common taunting about sports between rival fans done online is frequently meant to offend or annoy, and is often done using salty and profane language."

The language of the bill that bothers most critics can be found below:

"It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous electronic or digital communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the communications were received."

We will continue to follow this story as it develops.


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