Civilizing the Wild Internet

It’s nice when I can just repurpose school stuff into a blog post. Tonight I had to find an article on cyberstalking for class, so I located one from a couple weeks ago about how it is technically illegal to annoy someone online. Basically the law suggests that someone can be charged with a crime for anonymously publishing something with the intent to annoy. Many people are concerned about the laws implications and how it could threaten our first amendment rights.

The notion of being arrested for being annoying seems ridiculous upon first glance and it seems unlikely that anyone would actually pursue a case like this. Anonymity on the Internet has led to some very interesting discussion that could not come out any other way. Speaking publicly on the Internet can also become annoying. I don’t try to hide my identity on this site and as a result a tribute to my dad is being shared with dozens of football fans. This is an example of how public blogging led to mild public embarrassment. Now, imagine if I wrote something damaging about my dad or the football program elsewhere on the site – I would be in a ton of trouble.

Still, one could see some upsides to a law like this. I imagine John Seigenthaler could use this law to press criminal charges against the man who kept editing his Wikipeida entry. I would argue he would be justified in doing so too. Likewise, restricting Internet anonymity could prevent tragedies like that of Amy Boyer, who was killed by a young man who used Internet tools to anonymously locate her.

This specific law is stupid in a lot of ways and will probably be struck down by the courts in a year or two. The larger issue of regulating the Internet is still largely unanswered, however. While many have talked about space as a new frontier, cyberspace in many ways reflects our conceptions of the “Wild West”. So far we have been able to keep the Internet open and allow a free flow of information. I fear that as more and more people “move” into the world of cyberspace, laws will be created to protect people from this freedom.

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