Is it possible for blogs to operate without the snark and juvenile potshots that have come to characterize online communication? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped 15 Congressmen from attempting to sanitize the blogosphere.
It starts with new legislation spearheaded by Rep. Linda T. Sanchez—the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act–which would make it illegal for blogs and social media like MySpace or Facebook to communicate “with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.” It’s not the first attempt to make people play nice online.
Naturally, the blogosphere has been discussing the proposed legislation. The tone so far has remained civil. The core problem with Sanchez’s proposal isn’t so much that bloggers smell a half-baked conspiracy theory to police the internet, something we all know would be next to impossible. The real problem is the proposal’s language–particularly the idea of coercing a person via an online medium. Considering MySpace, Facebook, and most blogs come from the subjective creativity of hundreds of millions of users, eliminating the coercive elements could destroy their raison d’etre.
Sanchez’s proposal takes aim at cyber-bullying which is fine except for the fact that a number of states have already introduced and passed their own cyber-bully legislation. The anti-cyber-bullying crusade, recently profiled on an episode of Oprah, has inspired legislation in California, Maryland and Florida. The California legislation which passed last August gave school administrators the power to discipline students for online taunting.
Sanchez’s legislation, named after a Missouri teenager who committed suicide in 2006 after she was cyber-bullied, would make online harassment punishable by up to two years in prison. While most bloggers understand the basic sensibilities of the bill, they’ve been quick to shoot it down, often using the signature derision that helps make the blogosphere what it is today.