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Jail Time for Offensive Facebook Postings?
The Foundry ^ | 1/5/12 | Daniel Dew

Posted on 01/05/2013 6:00:01 PM PST by Impala64ssa

How many people would be in jail if annoying or offending a person were against the law? The answer: pretty much everyone. If you think that you might be one of these people and you like to send information electronically, there are a few places you should probably avoid.

Vernon County, Wisconsin, is among a growing number of jurisdictions that are implementing so-called cyber-bullying laws. A Vernon County ordinance makes it a crime to “send information to another person by electronic means with the intent to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person.” There is an exception if the information serves a “legitimate purpose.”

The statute is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, offensive speech is protected as long as it is not incitement to immediate unlawful conduct, obscene, child pornography, a threat, or fighting words. Here, the ordinance goes far beyond those unprotected categories of speech and targets speech that is simply annoying.

Putting First Amendment issues aside, the statute still fails to pass constitutional muster. For a criminal law to be constitutional, it must be written so that the average citizen can know what the law prohibits. If a law is too vague, it is void. This principle is appropriately called the “Void for Vagueness Doctrine.”

Does the Vernon County ordinance clearly state what conduct is prohibited? What does “annoy” mean? What does “offend” mean? What about “humiliate”? These things can mean different things to different people. As one commentator noted, the officials who implemented this law probably find criticism of the law offensive.

What if a person finds religious teachings offensive and an individual is constantly posting religious messages on his Facebook page?

The ordinance uses the phrase “any person.” Does that mean that the information can be annoying to someone other than the recipient of the message? That’s what the text of the ordinance says. If a teenager sends a text message to a friend with the intent to demean some B-List celebrity who is not a recipient of the text message, is that a violation of this law? The way the ordinance is written, our hypothetical teenager is a criminal.

By the way, so is anyone who forwards an email that winds up in the mailbox of someone offended by it. If you’re a Vikings fan, be careful what you say about the Packers—particularly this weekend—lest your email wind up in Vernon County and you wind up in jail.

The statute provides a defense if the information serves a “legitimate purpose.” Who determines what a “legitimate purpose” is? Some would argue that disparaging or humiliating someone can serve a legitimate purpose, when that person deserves to be disparaged or humiliated for something he has said or done that is morally blameworthy.

When the ordinance was being debated, the lawyer in favor of the ordinance said specifically that this would apply to Facebook posts. When siblings or friends post unflattering pictures of each other on their Facebook walls, are they criminals? If it was done, as is often the case, with the intent to annoy or humiliate the other, under this law that person might be heading for the slammer.

Are we shifting from a society where children complain to their parents about siblings or friends to one where children file complaints with the police about the same people?

It used to be, “Mom! She is being mean to me! Make her stop!” Will it soon be, “Officer! She is offending me on Facebook! Put her in jail!”?

This ordinance is incredibly overbroad and puts ordinary citizens in jeopardy of becoming criminals. This is one more example of the increasing overcriminalization problem at every level of government.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; US: Wisconsin
KEYWORDS: 1stamendment; 666; facebook; facebookisthedevil
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DAMN! They can't wait to sh*tcan the 2nd amendment, they're going right for the 1st.
1 posted on 01/05/2013 6:00:11 PM PST by Impala64ssa
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To: Impala64ssa

Freedom of speech! We don’t need no stinking freedom of speech.


2 posted on 01/05/2013 6:03:26 PM PST by doc1019
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To: Impala64ssa

Maybe someone should tell lawmakers about “defriending.”

>>annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person<<

Jim should put a filter on to keep people from Vernon County from getting an FR account... ;)


3 posted on 01/05/2013 6:05:00 PM PST by freedumb2003 (MOLON LABE)
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To: Impala64ssa

nobama is a total doofus.

Obviously, I don’t live in Vernon County, WI.


4 posted on 01/05/2013 6:07:35 PM PST by upchuck (America's at an awkward stage. Too late to work within the system, too early to shoot the bastards.)
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To: Impala64ssa

I think it’s South Africa that has a system that can punish you for showing disrespect for someone else.

Are we heading there?


5 posted on 01/05/2013 6:11:36 PM PST by DBrow
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To: Impala64ssa

Love the idea but it won’t happen. Watch the stock value plummet to Zero.


6 posted on 01/05/2013 6:12:57 PM PST by ImJustAnotherOkie (zerogottago)
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To: Impala64ssa

Need the facebook accounts for the county officials. Why, so I can >>annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person<< of the county bureaucracy.


7 posted on 01/05/2013 6:15:22 PM PST by RetiredTexasVet (Save the nation, have your family's progressives spayed or neutered.)
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To: Impala64ssa
There are very few acquaintances of mine who I hold in higher regard on account of what they've posted on Facebook.

Most of my friends end up disappointing and diminishing themselves in my eyes.

Which is why I post nothing beyond, "congrats," or "happy birthday."

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I don't know who said that, but it works for me.

8 posted on 01/05/2013 6:15:22 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
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To: Impala64ssa

That would cover about 30% of the FR posts; 90% during election seasons.


9 posted on 01/05/2013 6:18:14 PM PST by TomGuy
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To: Impala64ssa

That was my thought - full on attack on the bill of rights.


10 posted on 01/05/2013 6:18:26 PM PST by ThunderSleeps (Stop obama now! Stop the hussein - insane agenda!)
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To: Impala64ssa

Get used too it. This is the nannynation gone wild. This crap is going to grow and grow and grow. Eventually, if you just look at someone and make them cry, you can be arrested for making them cry. THIS IS WHAT LIBERALISM IS!!


11 posted on 01/05/2013 6:21:11 PM PST by RetiredArmy (1 Cor 15: 50-54 & 1 Thess 4: 13-17. That about covers it.)
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To: ImJustAnotherOkie

You “Love the idea”??????????????????????????????????


12 posted on 01/05/2013 6:21:16 PM PST by steve86 (Acerbic by Nature, not NurtureĀ™)
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To: Impala64ssa

DEPUTIZE MODERATORS!!!!

I think I saw this episode on Gunsmoke.


13 posted on 01/05/2013 6:21:20 PM PST by ansel12
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To: TomGuy
"with the intent to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person”

I shoot for 8/8 on that list but then my comments always have a “legitimate purpose" -- to drive the liberal, libertarian, or secularist poster off the Internets permanently.

14 posted on 01/05/2013 6:27:15 PM PST by steve86 (Acerbic by Nature, not NurtureĀ™)
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To: ansel12
I think I saw this episode on Gunsmoke.

No more nailing pamphlets to the tree in the town square?

-PJ

15 posted on 01/05/2013 6:29:11 PM PST by Political Junkie Too (If you are the Posterity of We the People, then you are a Natural Born Citizen.)
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To: Impala64ssa

Idiocy personified.


16 posted on 01/05/2013 6:33:27 PM PST by RIghtwardHo
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To: freedumb2003

Actually yes. And every other site with a forum as well. Perhaps they would notice and vote smarter after being cyber-marooned on the net..


17 posted on 01/05/2013 6:33:48 PM PST by Norm Lenhart
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To: Impala64ssa

Just think about it. If this law were extended to Fresno, CA then everyone on FR would be banned and go to prison! LOL


18 posted on 01/05/2013 6:35:21 PM PST by spel_grammer_an_punct_polise (Learn three chords and you, too, can be a Rock Star!)
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To: Impala64ssa
A Vernon County ordinance makes it a crime to “send information to another person by electronic means with the intent to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person.” There is an exception if the information serves a “legitimate purpose.”

Soooooo .... if I electronically watch youtube videos of Bill Maher's show (I never would, but if I did . . . )

19 posted on 01/05/2013 6:39:07 PM PST by Tanniker Smith (Rome didn't fall in a day, either.)
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To: RIghtwardHo

The Eagles had a song for this. It is called “Get Over It”.


20 posted on 01/05/2013 6:41:20 PM PST by Lets Roll NOW (A baby isn't a punishment, Obama is)
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