The Louisiana legislature, always on the lookout for important problems to solve, appears likely to pass a bill that would make it a criminal offense to send an electronic message with the intent to "harass" or "embarrass" any person under 17, whether or not the message actually has any effect. The new law would provide as follows:
R.S. 14:40.7 CyberbullyingPenalties start at $500/six months in jail, and those convicted of three or more cyberbullyings could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed for up to three years.
A. Cyberbullying is the transmission of any electronic textual, visual, written, or oral communication with the intent to coerce, abuse, torment, intimidate, harass, embarrass, or cause emotional distress to a person under the age of seventeen.
B. For purposes of this Section,"electronic textual, visual, written, or oral communication" means any communication of any kind made through the use of a computer online service, Internet service, or any other means of electronic communication, including but not limited to a local bulletin board service, Internet chat room, electronic mail, or online messaging service.
The chances that this law would be constitutional I would estimate at approximately zero percent. Even limited to communications targeting persons under 17 (rather than, as it originally provided, messages to "any person"), the law is vastly overbroad. It applies to "any means of electronic communication" and to such vague categories of messages that it would criminalize even, let's say, blog posts stating that Louisiana teenagers should be ashamed of their state or stating that they are wussies if they don't immediately take a road trip to Baton Rouge to leave a giant flaming bag of poop on the legislature's doorstep. (Do it, losers.)
More importantly, since the law is clearly intended at least in part to deter potential cyberbullies who are under 17, and because it would be posted online, the law itself would be an "electronic written communication" made with the specific intent to "coerce" or "intimidate" young people into not being cyberbullies. So passing the law against cyberbullying would itself be a criminal act of cyberbullying.
I think I am now willing to support this bill, but only if the legislature agrees to immediately prosecute itself if the bill passes.