Louisiana Wants To Put You In Jail If You Embarrass Anyone Under 17 Years Old Online

from the yeah-that'll-work dept

We’ve seen all sorts of crazy attempts to outlaw cyberbullying, but it seems that Louisiana is looking to really put themselves over the top in creating a law that creates a serious chilling effect on speech. As Eugene Volokh notes, the law would effectively ban any online speech designed to embarrass anyone under 17-years-old.

…would make it a misdemeanor to transmit any Internet communication or other computer communication “with the intent to coerce, abuse, torment, intimidate, harass, embarrass, or cause emotional distress to a person under the age of seventeen.” This applies without regard to whether the message is communicated to the person, to some other individuals, or to the public at large. So under the law, all of these would likely be criminals (though, under a recent amendment the adults could be jailed for up to a year, while the minors could be jailed for up to six months):

  • A girl who sends her under-17-year-old boyfriend an e-mail telling him what a schmuck he is for having cheated on her, and hoping that he feels ashamed of himself.
  • A blogger, or a newspaper columnist, or an online commentator, who publishes something condemning an under-17-year-old criminal, hoping the criminal feels embarrassed and ashamed as a result.
  • A public or private school official e-mailing the parents of an under-17-year-old student a message about the student’s misbehavior, hoping that the student will feel embarrassed and change his ways.
  • Parents e-mailing their under-17-year-old children telling the children that they should feel ashamed of some misbehavior.
  • A professional or amateur music critic or sports reporter writing a harsh review of an under-17-year-old performer’s or athlete’s behavior, hoping that the review will embarrass the performer or athlete into behaving more ethically, professionally, or competently.

I don’t see how this survives a First Amendment challenge, but when you’re grandstanding around something that gets press coverage like “cyberbullying,” it’s unlikely that the politicians supporting this even recognize or care about the unintended consequences.

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Comments on “Louisiana Wants To Put You In Jail If You Embarrass Anyone Under 17 Years Old Online”

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A Dan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Proposed laws

I’m not saying it’s nothing to be concerned about. My guess is that it will pass, but after removal of “embarrass” from the list.

I agree that that’s not much better. After all, embarrassing someone can be considered a form of emotional distress, and it would still be a free speech problem. But it will be a problem in line with what all the other states have (I agree with you, stupidly) passed.

George Lambert says:

Re: Proposed laws

I don’t see how this wouldn’t violate the First Amendment. I know that some state legislatures act like they’re eager to ban people being harassed on Facebook or even DirtyPhoneBook but we all know that their cries about protecting children are false and their real reason for this is to slowly work their way into preventing public criticism of themselves. You had that PA attorney general just this week asking Twitter to reveal the identities of some bloggers who had hurt his feelings too much. These politicians need to be criticized and the first amendment needs to be protected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not necessarily bad a thing

If a District Attorney says something that’s posted online about a 17 year-old criminal that causes emotional distress they get to go to jail, too. Or, how about the hard on crime politicians? Like I said, not necessarily bad a thing. This is a law that can keep giving and giving.

Zauber (profile) says:

Is Bush involved?

This suddenly reminds me of a law that George W Bush had snuck into a bill that would make it illegal to be annoying online. Since anything and everything can annoy someone, you can easily see the stupidity of the law. As if we’d expect anything smart to come from Dubya’s head.

This law is arguable worse, though, because a person can just SAY that they are humiliated or embarrassed in order to get someone thrown in jail out of spite.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems rather strange that in all but one of the examples given, the last part has the “hoping” part in it. Does that mean that you have to prove that the person was “hoping” to embarrass someone?

“and hoping that he feels ashamed of himself.”
“hoping the criminal feels embarrassed and ashamed as a result.”
“hoping that the student will feel embarrassed and change his ways.”
“hoping that the review will embarrass the performer or athlete into behaving more ethically, professionally, or competently.”

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Hope

> Does that mean that you have to prove that the
> person was “hoping” to embarrass someone?

The reason the author phrased those examples with “hoping” is because the law as written requires intent.

“…with the intent to coerce, abuse, etc.”

So accidentally embarassing someone online wouldn’t be covered. The defendant has to have intended (i.e., hoped for) the embarrassment to occur.

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:

Cyber? bullying

I can’t believe that you continue to legitimize the idea that there is such a thing as “cyber”bullying.

I have been unable to find any reports of bullying that was so restricted to an online forum that it warranted the moniker cyber.

I have searched Google for reports of “cyber” bullying and in all of them there was bullying and harassment in all areas of the person’s life. I am seriously concerned that by raising “cyber” above the other pervasive aspects of bullying we are minimizing their importance.

I would rather be called a name on line than be hit in the head with a soda can.

Bullying is bullying. Harassment is harassment. I really do not think that any worthy purpose is served by applying the prefix cyber, and I do wish that you Mike – of all people – would stop feeding the moral outrage over “cyber” bullying that only serves to distract from the real problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

What would it take for people to get offended by "delicious vi@gRa" emails?

Indeed, this law will probably end badly. I can see it working almost as well the singing telegraphs I used to send back in the late 1880s.

Surely we as a country have the resources to corral all the offended people and ship them off to their own island in the to start their own country called Offendistan.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Awesome unintended consequence

I have thought up an awesome unintended consequence of this.
Microsoft could end up banning everybody 17 and under from XBox Live, or perhaps give them their own segment. Everybody knows that smack talk occurs over Live. In order to protect its users Microsoft would have to do something to keep 17 and under year olds off of Live so that lots of people won’t be being constantly jailed and sued from Louisiana. As an aside, I am all for getting rid of the super young kids as they are often annoying, talk more smack talk than anyone else, and are the sorest of losers there are. At least lots of them that I have encountered online fit that bill. I am all for it!

Well. I am not really for limiting of speech and such but I am for the idea of not having to deal with young punks on such a regular basis.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: The real reason for the law

Yes, and it’s a kneejerk “the law can fix this!” reaction to a situation that the law CAN’T fix.

The law can’t change human behavior that easily – people still commit murder, steal from stores, cheat on taxes, and all manner of unethical, immoral, and/or illegal acts DESPITE the fact that the acts are illegal under the law.

This law is nothing more than “think of the children” posturing in an election year.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: The real reason for the law

You are probably correct, this did come out of the furor following on that incident.

As tragic as the incident was, why are there not media frenzies over each of the thousands of suicides a year that are not attributed to on-line activity?

Why should special laws be created to limit speech online when there are already criminal laws dealing with harassment?

And why aren’t they proposing a law prohibiting the embarrassment of children in person?

It certainly smells like a tragic case turned into an unmistakable Red Herring.

btr1701 (profile) says:


One issue not raised by the article (and which is typical of laws like this) is the issue of jurisdiction. Setting aside the massive constitutional issues, what if I’m in Idaho and say something that embarrasses a 16-year-old in Louisiana on the internet, does Louisiana expect to be able to prosecute me? Is Louisiana presuming to bind the entire world with its laws?

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