Criminalizing anonymous harassment via the Internet

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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