An Arizona State Representative has recently introduced a bill to the Arizona House, which would make it a felony to impersonate someone on the Internet.
An Arizona State Representative, Michelle Ugenti, just recently introduced a bill making the impersonation of someone online to be a class 5 felony. This would also include anyone on a social media site. Ugenti says she proposed the bill after one of her constituents told her about how they were harassed on Facebook by a false identity.
Some legal experts who have examined the wording of the bill are saying that it may have already been decided on in the past and particularly with criticism of political figures. As it stands, simply stating one’s grievance, whether it be openly or anonymously, is not illegal according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The only time such harsh language, written or spoken, might be illegal is if it had what is defined as the ‘fighting words', which was first covered in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942). Gooding V. Wilson (1972) went a step further and explained that some fighting words can be okay if they are only figurative in meaning.
Representative Ugenti has had numerous people that have impersonated her online, which lends many to believe this measure she’s proposing is based on personal reasons. According to the proposed bill, committing an online felony impersonation can be done by the following means (in part):
A. A PERSON COMMITS ONLINE IMPERSONATION IF THE PERSON, WITHOUT OBTAINING THE OTHER PERSON'S CONSENT AND WITH THE INTENT TO HARM, DEFRAUD, INTIMIDATE OR THREATEN ANY PERSON, USES THE NAME OR PERSONA OF ANOTHER PERSON TO DO EITHER OF THE FOLLOWING:
1. CREATE A WEB PAGE ON A COMMERCIAL SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE OR OTHER INTERNET WEBSITE.
2. POST OR SEND ONE OR MORE MESSAGES ON OR THROUGH A COMMERCIAL SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE OR OTHER INTERNET WEBSITE, OTHER THAN ON OR THROUGH AN ELECTRONIC MAIL PROGRAM OR MESSAGE BOARD PROGRAM.
Many are worried that if this Arizona bill passes it may be interpreted to apply to online parodies as well, and anyone that reads twitter or the Internet in general with any regularity knows that parody, comedic or otherwise, is quite the norm. Nevertheless, we know that protection from prosecution from a written or spoken parody, which includes anonymous criticism of an elected official, is clearly someone’s right as per the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.