by Mike Masnick
Wed, Apr 1st 2009 12:20pm
There's been an increasing effort among some to make being a jerk online some sort of criminal activity, even though that almost certainly violates the First Amendment. The latest is an effort in West Virginia to create a new misdemeanor for posting false information about someone online, which could result in fines and jailtime. Now, as you probably already know, we already have laws against defamation -- though that's a civil issue, where the defamed party can take the defamer to court. In this case, the law would do two things: (1) make it a criminal issue, getting the government involved in determining who to prosecute and (2) lower the standard for what breaks the law. Specifically, defamation has required not just the spreading of false information, but that it be done with malicious intent, if you wanted any kind of punitive damages. Yet, this law in West Virginia has no such requirement, meaning that simply spreading false information, even if not for malicious intent, could get you brought up on criminal charges. That seems to go against the First Amendment, but since when has that ever stopped lawmakers from pushing bills?
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