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Friday, May 22, 2009

Debating cyberbullying legislation

It's called the Cyberbullying Prevention Act of 2009, but some are calling it the "Censorship Act of 2009." The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), "is designed to prevent cyberbullying, making it punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison," reports. One critic of the bill, UCLA law Prof. Eugene Volokh, said that - if the law were passed - he could go to jail for what he's blogged about the law! And my co-director at ConnectSafely, Larry Magid, told Fox News that "you can't legislate against meanness." MSNBC columnist Helen A.S. Popkin suggests that, with laws like this, legislators seem to be clear on principles but not on where the Internet comes in, as a reflection of humanity good and bad. "You know how shutting down the 'erotic services' section on Craigslist won't stop sex workers, or eliminate their higher probability of becoming crime victims by the marginalized nature of the trade? Similarly, outlawing meanness on the Internet won’t prevent hectors from preying on the weak on the Internet or turn jerks into saints in any aspect of their lives." And here's what really resonates with me: "Unfortunately, sensation rallies a mob more efficiently than adequate research and dissemination of critical information: how to recognize dangerous behavior, mental illness and suicide risk in teenagers, no matter the stressor," Popkin writes. Representative Sanchez defended her bill in the Huffington Post.

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