A proposed bill to penalize online impersonation is aimed at protecting private citizens from online harassment and not intended to impact online satire or parody, a House GOP spokesperson said Wednesday. While we’re at it, what do you think is the best parody account in PA politics?
A proposed bill to penalize online impersonation is aimed at protecting private citizens from online harassment and not intended to impact online satire or parody, a House GOP spokesperson said Wednesday.
Jennifer Keaton, Public Relations Coordinator for House GOP said House Bill 2249 is designed to crack down on cyberbullying and other malicious activities. She said that amendments are likely forthcoming to better delineate the activity in question.
“It’s not meant for criticism, for parodies,” she said. “That’s not what we’re looking at.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks), said she was inspired to introduce her bill – which is co-sponsored by 27 Republicans and 6 Democrats – after hearing the story of a local teacher whose students had impersonated her with a fake email address.
From The Intelligencer:
The woman, a Warrington resident, discovered that two students had created an email account in her name and used it to harass another student. Local police investigated the incident, Watson said, and the account was shut down.
However, the district attorney’s office indicated the students couldn’t be charged under Pennsylvania’s identity theft statute because the teacher didn’t suffer a financial loss.
The measure has broad support from law enforcement officials, but some are concerned that the bill would threaten free speech.
“The ‘deceive’ or ‘harm’ language in the bill is the most problematic,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “One person’s public criticism is another person’s deception or harm. Our lawyers haven’t yet concluded how to protect the privacy of the Pennsylvanian who is being genuinely harassed while keeping public discourse protected and free, but we’re working on it.”
“We don’t want police and DAs to become speech police, so the boundaries in the bill need to be clear. I’m hopeful that we can work it out.”
Specifically, the bill would classify it as an offense of online impersonation to use the name, persona or identifying information of another person to create a website, post a comment on a social media site, or send an electronic communication with the intent to deceive, harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any person. It would be a third degree misdemeanor.
The stakes could be high for new media politicos. It’s become very popular in the past few years for critics or supporters to create parody accounts of politicians and elected officials – often with hilarious results. The language in the bill does not specifically exempt such activity.
PoliticsPA is seeking reaction from Rep. Watson regarding these concerns.
While we’re at it, what do you think is the best parody account in Pennsylvania politics? Comment below.