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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Even if offensive, Internet speech should be protected

    Arizona’s recent proposal of an anti-cyberstalking bill could potentially put a Daily Wildcat online commenter, like John, behind bars.

    On a March 28 article titled “Delta Chi efforts halted after suspension,” this commenter wrote: “A 10 year old could have written this article. Its ashamed that the University would let this be published. Find a new major/career savannah as you wont make it any further than dailywildcat.com.”

    The now-withdrawn Arizona House Bill 2549 could have deemed this user’s comment “offensive, annoying (and) intimidating speech online,” which could have landed him with up to $2,500 fines and up to six months in jail.

    Arizona’s attempt to decrease cyberstalking with this bill would have made most adult Internet users “victims” — and knowing the Arizona Legislature, this won’t be the last time this topic will be tackled.

    Part of the excitement behind being a Wildcat columnist is the online commentary section, which allows readers to express themselves about our columns. It can also serve as a forum for readers to debate their own opinions on the topics we have written about.

    Under the proposed law, comments like John’s, or comments such as, “You’re a woman so of course you are going to complain. Nag, Nag, Nag…” and “you are ignorant, no one cares what you have to say, you will never get anywhere as a journalist,” would be banned, and that open forum on columns would be restricted. Depending on a person’s sense of humor, these comments can be either hilarious or extremely damaging. However, comments on public forums, blogs and social media sites are a huge part of the Internet’s purpose and can hardly be called “threatening.” Only if there is a blatant physical threat or obvious defamation of character should a user be punished.

    If a bill restricting what can and cannot be said online is passed, a tighter definition of cyberstalking should be created. The National Center for Victims of Crime defines it as “threatening behavior or unwanted advances directed at another using the Internet and other forms of online and computer communications.” If the bill was based around that definition it would be much more appropriate. But, the words “intimidate, offend (and) annoy” suggest that daily conversations on the Internet, from a column’s comment section to a post on a friend’s Facebook page, can be harmful.

    It seems the bill was drafted with the goal to ultimately put an end to the negativity flooding the Internet but the current cyberstalking standard remains too vague to pin down a real solution to this negativity.

    American culture is based on democracy, and central to that is the opportunity to discuss and express opinions. If people are annoyed, offended or intimated by some opinions, they then have the ability to argue and state their own. With almost 80 percent of the U.S. using the Internet, according to World Bank data, it seems that telling those millions of people not to say anything offensive is a waste of breath.

    There’s a way for a similar piece of legislation to regulate Internet bullies without sounding like overprotective parents, with heavy edits to its subjective language. The free speech given to Americans in the First Amendment of the Constitution allows us to be heard. Whether we offend, annoy or intimidate someone is irrelevant. And if that’s allowed in print or in voice, the same concept should apply on the Internet.

    Cyberstalking, cyberbullying and a host of other online issues are serious. But annoying, offensive or intimidating language is not in the same category as threatening or defamatory language. The bill needs to target only defamatatory language, and the websites who use it, rather than one state of Internet users.

    — Caroline Nachazel is a junior studying journalism and communication. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .

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