Across the country, states are cracking down on online impersonators in an attempt to combat fraud, libel, and cyber bullying.
In Arizona, the legislature is considering a bill that would make maliciously impersonating somebody over Facebook or Twitter a felony, Alia Beard Rau of The Arizona Republic reports.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti, who pre-filed this bill in December, says it is based on a similar law passed in Texas.
The law distinguishes between creating a fake account, which would be a felony, and merely posing as someone else on a message board, which would be a misdemeanour.
Ironically, this came to my attention via a tweet from the parody Twitter account pretending to be Will McAvoy, anchorman of News Night on HBO’s hit show The Newsroom:
WE’RE FIXING THE INTERNET! firstcoastnews.com/news/strange/a…
— Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoyACN) January 3, 2013
McAvoy’s character would be just as enthusiastic about this law as this tweet would suggest. On the show, he required that commenters on his blog use their real names as part of his “mission to civilize.”
But First Amendment advocates fear the Arizona law may implicate the very people who create parody accounts like this one.
“The problem with this, and other online impersonation bills, is the potential that they could be used to go after parody or social commentary activities,” Kurt Opsah, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Arizona Republic.
In regards to the Texas law on which the Arizona law has been modelled, criminal defence lawyer Stephanie Stradley has written that “Following the letter of this law, there may be a lot of criminals. ‘Harm’ can be very broadly construed–one person’s joke is another person’s harm.”
You can find the full text of this bill, which is very short, here.
New York led the charge against online impersonation with a 2008 law that made Internet impersonation a Class A misdemeanour.
Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, California, Washington are also among the list of states that have passed laws against online impersonation.
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