Criminalizing anonymous harassment via the Internet

Posted by: ST on January 10, 2006 at 9:37 am

Every once in a while, there comes along a troll who seems intent on harassing you no matter how firm you’ve been with them about asking them to stop. They’ll try to somehow get their messages posted at your blog, email you like crazy, and in general make real you-know-whats out of themselves. In fact, just yesterday I had a troll try to ‘educate’ me on what the legal definition of harassment is as if to say that what he was saying to me (and it wasn’t the first time it was said to me by this troll) couldn’t legally be considered harassment.

Not so fast, Mr. Multi-Nick (and all other trolls who continue to visit blogs where you are not welcome).

La Shawn Barber has an excellent post up about this today and notes that Congress has recently amended The Communications Act of 1934 to include anonymous harassment via the Internet. Her definition of trolling is right on:

Disagreeing with a post is not trolling. My definition of a troll is someone who disagrees with a post but attacks me personally in his response. (If you think I’m being too sensitive about that, ask yourselves if you’d put up with ad hominem for its own sake, especially from anonymous cowards).

Challenging assertions, offering contrary evidence, etc., is not trolling, but when the commenter/e-mailer writes something gratuitous and inflammatory about me or other commenters, that’s trolling. Additionally, if I ask someone not to comment on the blog anymore and they continue to try, that’s trolling.

But could trolling be considered harassment under the amended law? I’m not sure, because I haven’t seen the specifics of the amended version of the Communications Act, but my guess would be that it’s a possibility it could be considered harassment but only if it’s repetitive (which would make sense, since harassment is considered to be [emphasis mine] “the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands.”)

La Shawn writes, and I agree, that there’s no reason to make a federal case out of a few nutheads who have nothing better to do than sit behind a computer and say things to someone online that they’d never consider saying to that person’s face. But as her friend, lawyer Kevin Funnell points out, it’s nice to know that bloggers have some legal recourse for extreme cases where a particular troll (or trolls) won’t leave that blogger alone. Make sure to check out his post, and read La Shawn’s as well.

Note: Please check the comments section here for a discussion about the definition of a troll.

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  • 23 Responses to “Criminalizing anonymous harassment via the Internet”

    Comments

    1. Chris Rywalt says:

      Have we changed the definition of “troll”?

      Here’s the one I’m familiar with.

      When did “troll” start to mean “a rude jerk”?

    2. “Have we changed the definition of “troll”?”

      No, not to my knowledge.

      Here’s the one I’m familiar with.

      Good. Then I’m sure you noted definition 2, which was (emphasis mine):

      2. n. An individual who chronically trolls in sense 1; regularly posts specious arguments, flames or personal attacks to a newsgroup, discussion list, or in email for no other purpose than to annoy someone or disrupt a discussion. Trolls are recognizable by the fact that they have no real interest in learning about the topic at hand – they simply want to utter flame bait. Like the ugly creatures they are named after, they exhibit no redeeming characteristics, and as such, they are recognized as a lower form of life on the net, as in, “Oh, ignore him, he’s just a troll.” Compare kook.

      “When did “troll” start to mean “a rude jerk”? ”

      Perhaps you should read your own link.

    3. fine dry wit says:

      Hi Sister-on our blog (Fine Dry Wit)I put up a warning on the comments page that any trolls acting troll-like are in danger of becoming my puppets: I mess with their comments, make them say nice things about George Bush, for example. Of course, our blog is tiny, and I have much more time on my hands than you do. You may have to threaten some with legal consequences-every troll can be tracked down by their Internet provider, so if they say things they wouldn’t dare say to your face they might have to explain their actions to a judge and jury.
      Have a great day, Sister!

    4. Baklava says:

      BTW, By your graces ST, I’m allowed to blog here. I fully understand that if I’m calling you names or directing insults at you that I’m overstaying my welcome.

      And I fully understand that if you tell me to stop doing something that I can either listen or find somewhere else to post (like my own blog).

      There is no reason why you have to spend your time, energy, money, stress on people who harass. Since only you can decide who is harassing you and it is your blog, I’d say that anyone arguing with you on the subject is wasting their time and is INCONSIDERATE of your feelings. Since liberals like to insist that they are more in tune with “feelings” and “care” more, I’d say they are all wet.

    5. PCD says:

      I’ve not gotten trackbacks to work correctly, but Brian over at Iowa Voice had a post up on this subject. I thought I’d try to ignore the subject.

      Also, we have our own “franchise’ of Democrat Underground here in Iowa. They are more pathetic because not one of them is original in their posts or thoughts.

    6. Chris Rywalt says:

      “An individual who chronically trolls in sense 1″ — which is to say, as the definition says, “The well-constructed troll is a post that induces lots of newbies and flamers to make themselves look even more clueless than they already do, while subtly conveying to the more savvy and experienced that it is in fact a deliberate troll.”

      Someone who is just looking to annoy you or harass you is not a troll. Someone who is baiting you into saying something stupid or looking foolish is trolling.

      The word has connotations, as it does in English when referring to fishing, of baiting a creature into doing something against its interests. Only a bozo argues with a troll.

      So, if this person is trying to get a rise out of you, they are trolling. And if you feed the troll, that makes you a newbie, or anyway a fool.

      There’s a sense, actually, in which I could be said to be trolling right now.

    7. Dana says:

      The comments I post here would hardly be considered either rude or inflamatory to our lovely hostess, but in a sense I’m “trolling,” because I’m hoping to attract readers to visit my site as well.

      Gandalf “defeated” the three trolls who were trying to decide the best way to cook thirteen dwarves and one hobbit, by confusing them so long that they didn’t get back into their cave in time, and the sunlight struck them, turning them into stone. Maybe the best definition of a troll is someone whose comments cannot stand the light of day.

    8. Dana says:

      And hey, trolling works! Dave visited mi site and left a comment.

    9. A troll is NOT someone who frequents a site to flirt with the host.

      THAT’S sexual harrassment! o:-)

      BTW…are you a minor league hockey fan because you like the Checkers, or because you’re against the drive/flight to Raleigh?:-w

    10. Dana says:

      How can anyone be a hockey fan in Carolina? How can there be NHL franchises in Dallas and Miami and Los Angeles?

      I mean, that’s just wrong!

    11. Easy, EASY SISTER!![-x

      While I agree that Dallas and Miami are mistakes, let’s not go overboard. The Kings have been around for almost 40 years.

      Dallas. I still can’t get over that. As long as I can breathe, they are the Minnesota North Stars.

    12. CT says:

      A comment from a troll is like pornography–you know it when you see it. The problem with considering it harrassment is that it is too damn subjective. If I went on the Democratic Underground and said “I think George W. Bush is a great President” I would likely be considered a troll. Should I be sued for harrassment for such a comment?

      The great thing about trolls on the internet is that their comments can be removed and their IPs banned. Dump them and be done with it. Now, if they threaten you with bodily harm, that’s a whole another matter.

    13. Bachbone says:

      Regardless what you want to call “it,” why put up with it? It is, after all, your blog. And it wastes your time, bandwidth and money (unless someone else is paying your bills), turns off readers who are interested in learning, and proves the point that unpunished behaviors persist and thrive. You have more patience that I, ST.

    14. benning says:

      El Conquistadore: Rats! I’ve been found out! Do ya think ST knows? Do I still have some flirt time left? Heheheeee!

      Dana: I was reared a Broad Street Bully fan! Now, how can I follow hockey, here in Florida? Well, I root for the home team! Go Lightning! (and secretly, I root for my Flyers, too!)

      Hey, if it’s [b]your[/b] web blog or website, you call the shots. You can allow the trolls or eject them. Most regulars to any site know [b]who[/b] the trolls are.

      *where [b]is[/b] steve?*

    15. benning says:

      El Conquistadore: Rats! I’ve been found out! Do ya think ST knows? Do I still have some flirt time left? Heheheeee!

      Dana: I was reared a Broad Street Bully fan! Now, how can I follow hockey, here in Florida? Well, I root for the home team! Go Lightning! (and secretly, I root for my Flyers, too!)

      Hey, if it’s your web blog or website, you call the shots. You can allow the trolls or eject them. Most regulars to any site know who the trolls are.

      *where is steve?*

    16. J Rob says:

      The good news is that under that definition, DU and Kos members will have to stay home now.:d

    17. Dana says:

      El Conquistadore wrote:

      While I agree that Dallas and Miami are mistakes, let’s not go overboard. The Kings have been around for almost 40 years.

      Dallas. I still can’t get over that. As long as I can breathe, they are the Minnesota North Stars.

      Los Angeles can’t even hold an NFL team; how can they have any credibility in hockey?

    18. Just…Google “Gretzky”.:-w

      I’ll wait.

    19. Benning,

      Flirt all ya want, but I promise to rub her feet. So there!

      It’s always nice to meet a Flyers fan (I watched the ’76 Canadiens skate around with the Stanley Cup ON MY HOME ICE!)

      There’s no need to keep your orange-and-black blood a secret.