Arizona Politician Parodied By Fake Twitter Accounts Pushes Bill To Make Online Impersonation A Felony

from the be-careful-who-you-parody dept

It's become quite common these days to see people set up "fake" social network profiles for certain people as a way to parody them. There have been a few lawsuits here and there over such fake profiles, but should they be a crime? As noted by the Citizen Media Law Project, Arizona State Representative Michelle Ugenti has proposed a bill that would make it a class 5 felony to impersonate someone online "with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten." That last part, obviously, limits the purely parodical accounts, but the definitions of those words could be quite broad, and the risk of an overly broad interpretation is quite real. Considering that class 5 felonies in Arizona come with a "presumptive sentence of a year and a half imprisonment," you would hope that the definitions here would be a lot clearer.

Of course, as the CMLP article notes, you have to wonder if Ugenti proposed this bill for personal reasons -- seeing as there are some parody twitter accounts for her, specifically @RubbingUGently and @RepMUgenti. It seems that Rep. Ugenti got some attention for snapping at a bunch of students, who would be charged $2,000 more (regardless of their financial aid setup) to attend university in the state, "welcome to life," and for making a hacky masturbation joke during committee hearings. If you want, the quip is at 2:14:30, and involves another committee member asking how long the hearings are going to run, and saying that he has "a hot date" that he wants to get to, leading her to say: "No you don't. Stop it. Your right hand doesn't count." All clearly overheard on microphone.

Would those parody accounts be subject to this new law? CMLP suggests they would likely be protected under the First Amendment, but of course, it could involve a long and convoluted trial to prove that point. Just the threat of jail time could create serious chilling effects on parody speech. As for Rep. Ugenti being concerned about fake Twitter and Facebook profiles, perhaps she should take her own advice: "welcome to life."


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Ninja (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 3:59am

    Ah, Streissand Effect.

    The winning move here would be to make fun along with the parodies and get a lot more accepted for being easy going and reasonable. But no. Carreon, meet Ugenti.

     

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    Aria Company (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 4:39am

    Ugenti should be mindful of the saying "Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it."

    Should the bill pass to law, she'll be charged the class 5 felony for parodying a government official, whose responsibility is to serve the public, not herself.

     

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      gorehound (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      "As Think Progress noted, nearly 100 Arizona students attended the committee hearing to speak out against the bill, HB 2675, expressing concern that it would make it more difficult for many students to afford college. Rep. Michelle Ugenti (R-Scottsdale) responded bluntly in favor of the new measure: "Welcome to life."

      Fuck You Ugenti !!! Hope to see a Million Ugenti Fake Parodies !
      But better yet I hope to see a lot of the GOP losing Seats in the next Election.
      They have become a great impediment to our Freedom.

       

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      Arizona State Representative Michelle Ugenti, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:36am

      Re:

      No you don't. Stop it. Your right hand doesn't count.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 5:35am

    Arizona, take of the rainbow shades ...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 5:40am

    Probably never heard of exceptions such as parody and free speech...

     

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    miatajim (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 5:40am

    3.2.1....now it will be 50 accounts her.

     

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 5:55am

    And, yet, if the politician were profiting from it in some way, they would be all for online parodies.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 6:00am

    No discussion of fake twitter accounts is complete without a link to Miguel Bloombito.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 6:01am

    How about a law that says if a politician is so thin skinned that he or she has to create new laws because he or she can't take being made fun of they face lifetime imprisonment. If their lucky the prosecutor will take sympathy and offer a plea deal of only 10 years.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 6:04am

    I think she should change her last name to 'Moron', it would better represent her policies, 'Michelle Moron', since she gets so many sexual jokes, but she's not a sex obsessed politician, she's a just a simple short sighted hot headed moron.

     

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 6:37am

    Impersonation

    I think, in light and honor of this new initiative, that ALL regular Techdirt posters should immediately cease and desist impersonating themselves on Techdirt!

     

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    GMacGuffin (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:01am

    Sounds like California's Statute ...

    We have Penal Code §528.5 in CA, which makes it a misdemeanor to do essentially the same thing.

    528.5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense punishable pursuant to subdivision (d).

    I haven't heard any stories of abuse of the statute, but then I haven't been looking.

    A few weeks ago, I would have thought it not likely ripe for prosecutorial abuse. Not so much now.

     

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      GMacGuffin (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:02am

      Re: Sounds like California's Statute ...

      ... but at least it says "credibly impersonates" which should protect the parodists ... but perhaps not the satirists...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:02am

    Why is she not being honest and saying she wants a law that makes poking fun at politicians a felony worth life in prison.

     

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      MichelleBooBoo, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 12:02pm

      Re: Then she would go to prison...

      ...for poking fun at the other guy to begin with.

      How do idiots like this get elected? Shame on those of you who voted for her.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:03am

    when a politician does something wrong, even when very wrong, like calling the leader of Iran 'a monkey', it's not only 'ok', but anyone that brings it to the attention of others is told to 'chill out'. when someone does something like this TO a politician, all of a sudden there is a new law in the offering to get the behaviour banned! how strange it is that they can dish out but not take back! another example of just how selfish and self-centered these arse holes we have 'protecting us' really are!

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    Overkill?

    I dunno, with a reaction like this parody twitter accounts might be a bit over the top, given the woman is already a walking joke.

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:11am

    hmmm

    You have to wonder what these lawmakers are thinking when they decide that fake accounts are worth a class 5 felony.

    Basically Rep. Ugenti would rather be punched in the face (misdemeanor assault)than made fun of on a fake twitter account.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 1:57pm

      Re: hmmm

      Correct, being punched in the face might improve her chances of re-election from a sympathy vote, being parodied may hurt her reflection chance by drawing attention to her faults.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:30am

    That piece of shit should be arrested, tried, and hung for treason to even suggest such a thing. It's goes against the very foundation that this nation was built upon ffs.
    I mean really, his job is to make decisions that is in the best interest of Americans and not himself..

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:40am

    Ben Franklin would have been the first to break this law. I still say he was the original troll.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 7:51am

    Why am I not surprised she is a Republican.
    They often enjoy belittling the small people and it should be high treason if someone belittles her.

    I look forward to even more accounts coming out of the woodwork, and her wasting more taxpayer time and money trying to make it criminal to mock her.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 8:04am

      Re:

      Politicians think it should be illegal to parody their ignorance, yet it's perfectly fine to post videos making fun of rape victims. Is it just me, or are our priorities a little screwed up these days?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 10:26am

    So instead of parody accounts parody hash tags will proliferate. #HARepMUgneti [followed by joke here]

     

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    Jack T, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 11:50am

    Sorry, the SC all ready ruled against such a law

    This has all ready made it to the supreme court. If you are a celebrity or a politician, you might as well give up stopping a parody or someone picking on you. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 3:23pm

    When will politicians ever learn that state lawmakers cannot pass laws that directly conflict with Federal or constitutional laws. You cannot pass a law that has a conflict with the first amendment. While you can try, there isn't any court in the land that would allow any such state law to remain.

    Instead, this lawmaker is going to end up wasting taxpayer dollars on a law that will be struck down by the Federal courts.

     

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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Feb 6th, 2013 @ 4:22pm

    Maybe she shouldn't be such an asswipe in public.

     

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    Mark W. Bennett, Feb 7th, 2013 @ 11:30am

    Fortunately, statutes aren't copyrighted…

    Ugenti cribbed the Arizona statute from Texas's, which hasn't been tested in the appellate courts yet, but we're working on it.

    Please see this and this.

     

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