Social media can be the wild west with words. The rest of the internet is not much different. It can get weird. And it is easy to take things the wrong way. But never fear, we have elected officials coming to the rescue. They have introduced a bill to protect themselves from whatever they decide constitutes cyberbullying.
This bill is so bad (at least the way I read it) you don’t even need to be referring to them directly. If something else you wrote (not directed at or relating to them) can be construed (by them) to constitute a threat when considered with other remarks (elsewhere), you could be charged. You just need to be an elected official and say you feel threatened.
And apparently, the very act of breathing (emailing, tweeting, or using Facebook) by public officials is an administration of government (even though they can block you or ban you). And should you rub two words together that hastens their breathing (oh, my!), you could be in violation of their law.
It’s good to be the ‘King’
To craft this anti-speech weapon, they have proposed modifications to RSA 642:1 Obstructing Government Administration.
(a) “Cyberbullying” means the repeated and intentional use of a cell phone, computer, or other electronic communication device for the purpose of harassing or threatening a public servant.
Who decides if the words are harassment, threatening, or intentional? The government, of course.
(b) “Cyberstalking” means:
(1) Purposely, knowingly, or recklessly engaging in a course of conduct using a cell phone, computer, or other electronic communication device targeted at a public servant which would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her personal safety or the safety of a member of that person’s immediate family, and the public servant is actually placed in such fear;
With cyberstalking, it doesn’t have to be deliberate. You could unintentionally (recklessly) create a circumstance that melted some snowflake and find yourself on the wrong side of this law. And this, unlike the cyberbully clause, references family members even if and when they may have made an unofficial member of the public (as opposed to an official one) feel threatened first. (Yes, we have an example).
(2) Purposely or knowingly engages in a course of conduct using a cell phone, computer, or other electronic communication device targeted at a public servant, which the actor knows will place that individual in fear for his or her personal safety or the safety of a member of that individual’s immediate family.
There is no way to know this. It is entirely subjective and includes acts (presumably) by others whom the author does not know nor whose actions or intent they can predict or control. This is by far the most egregious impediment to free speech in the proposed legislation.
(c) “Doxxing” means recklessly or purposely revealing and publicizing any private or personally identifiable information of a public servant for the purpose of threatening, intimidating, or harassing such person in the course of his or her official duties.
I oppose actual doxxing, but this is absurd. The names, addresses, email, addresses, and phone numbers of elected members of the NH legislature (for example) are public knowledge including all six of this bill’s sponsors. Their legislative vehicle plates are public property. Sharing that information or directing people to it is an essential part of encouraging constituents to contact their public servants regarding votes, hearings, and legislation proposed as acts of force against them in the form of regulations or taxes. In other words, in the course of his or her official duties.
Enacting statues that punish people for sharing that information knowing they have no control over how anyone else might use it, is tyrannical.
Carve-outs for experts
This might be clever if this bill were meant as a foot in the door to a more comprehensive assault on constitutionally protected online speech. But because it seeks to modify RSA 642:1 the intent is clear. The sponsors and co-sponsors are seeking a specific right for themselves which they can deny to everyone else.
A reasonable person might think that these legislators are elitist narcissists abusing power granted them by the people that effectively silences people who might otherwise object to the way that power has been exercised.
I do appreciate the effort. It is a rare opportunity when tyrants expose themselves so willingly. And in an election year. And some of them in traditionally Republican districts.
But it is an abuse of power we can discuss all the way to November 2020, whether public officials decide to feel threatened by that or not.HB1159 - Cyberbully cyberstalking legisaltion