Don't be an internet troll. You could be sent to jail!

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order

TrollMost people who have used the internet for any length of time is able to recognise an internet troll.

They're the people who delight in posting something inflammatory or outrageous with the intention of provoking a reaction. They often don't care if what they post is offensive or simply stupid, all they desire is to disrupt genuine conversations or upset innocent people.

It's pretty immature behaviour - but sadly, it's all too common.

An update to the US State of Arizona's telecommunications harrasment bill, however, could send a strong message to internet trolls that their behaviour is not going to be tolerated.

"It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person."

Amended legislation

By replacing references to the telephone to "any electronic or digital device", the bill is now covering any communication over the internet.

And as trolls *do* usually intend to annoy, harass or offend - it seems pretty clear-cut that they would be in hot water.

With hand on heart, can you honestly say that you have *never* annoyed or offended someone via the internet? If you can, you're a better person than me.

Naked Security seems to offend some people every single day - you should see the emails we get when we write about Mac malware for instance!

That's pretty worrying, even though none of us live in Arizona - as the offence is deemed to have taken place either at "the place where the communications originated or at the place where the communications were received."

If someone is found guilty under Arizona House Bill 2549, they could face a $2500 fine and up to six months in jail.

According to Gizmodo, if you've also used your computer to stalk someone your crime bumps up to a class three misdemeanor. That's even more serious, and could see you put away for a stonking 25 years in the clink.

The revised bill passed both of Arizona's legislative houses last week, and now awaits a stamp of approval from the state's governor.

Don't forget, if you're being harassed online - here's our advice on how to deal with an internet troll.

Just promise that you won't report this article as annoying to the Arizona authorities.

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33 Responses to Don't be an internet troll. You could be sent to jail!

  1. Delts · 868 days ago

    Well if the law passes the first in jail should be whoever wrote the law/posted it online first since I find the law itself offensive and annoying! A law like that would soon be completely unworkable if everyone took it to its most extreme.

    • Ron · 865 days ago

      I live in AZ and find this law repugnant. Then again most recent laws are repugnant. Anyway Iv'e heard that the law is being 'reworked' because the Governor has been receiving so much grief about it that she will not sign it in its present form.

  2. Freddy Bloggins · 868 days ago

    I wonder if these are extraditable offenses? If so, none of us is safe!! (Not just Julian A).

    • teri · 868 days ago

      Somehow I doubt Canada, most of Europe or Australia will be recognizing this as extraditable. For that matter, unless you are threatening someone's life, I don't see any states going along with this either. While parts of the law are well-intentioned, it is completely unConstitutional.

      I annoy many people. TFB. I don't deliberately "follow" anyone on the internet to do so, but I have a right to my opinion and, if someone posts THEIR opinion on a public forum I have a right to respond.

      Stick THAT in your pipe Jan Brewer (aka The Wicked WItch of the West) and smoke it.

      BTW, anyone who is worried about being annoyed or offended should just stay the heck off social networking sites and the Internet.

      • Diddams · 867 days ago

        IANAL but "using a carriage service (which includes the Internet) to cause offence" is a crime in this part of Australia and yes, people have been convicted and imprisoned for it. I believe one of the tests for extradition is whether or not the act would have been an offence in this jurisdiction as well as the extraditing jurisdiction - so best not to include Oz in your list of "places I would love to be annoying and offensive from" ;)

  3. Rick · 868 days ago

    Thank God they are working so hard on the most important issues. Seems to me like you would get less time if you just killed a person rather than stalk them online. shakin my head in disbelief

  4. Everything in this bill is bad, but the 'profane' part is even worse.

  5. Myles · 867 days ago

    How long until another Brit gets deported to the USA then under this law?

    (Wish I could put a /sarcasm tag on this.. I really do)

  6. Kathryn · 867 days ago

    Um. Merely /being/ offensive or annoying is not enough; the question is whether the actor /intended/ to offend or annoy. Mind you, that still seems a bit too broad in the case of internet postings, as opposed to telephone calls, texts, and private messages.

  7. IamLegion · 867 days ago

    The law clearly states "with intent." But yes, as with any law, there will be interpretation issues.

  8. Peter · 867 days ago

    They'd have to prove intent to annoy. Unless you've written blogs about Mac malware intending to bait the more... err... *passionate* Mac users then any semi-competent lawyer would get a case thrown straight out of court.

    • Richard · 867 days ago

      Only *after* you've been extradited to the US, and only if you've found enough money to pay for a semi-competent lawyer.

  9. hopalong · 867 days ago

    what ever happened to free speech ?

    • Ron · 865 days ago

      Not only free speech but they are trying to regulate speech on a PRIVATE website that someone owns. Maybe the webmaster wants trolling maybe not. BAD law, hopefully it will be struck down or changed.

  10. Teqx · 867 days ago

    Gosh darn it, and just when I was about to purchase a ThinkGeek Annoy-a-tron.

  11. Peoria Dude · 867 days ago

    This law is clearly unconstitutional on at least 2 grounds: the terms "annoy" and "harass" are vague, leaving one to guess as to the extent required to violate (or stay within the bounds of) the law; and 2) it is a clear breach of the 1st Amendment free expression clause. I would think nearly every political commentator would be in jail under the terms of this law. This is just another example of AZ acting out. The people of that state should be ashamed of their legislature and governor.

  12. Seanothon · 867 days ago

    "...if you've also used your computer to stalk someone your crime bumps up to a class three misdemeanor. That's even more serious, and could see you put away for a stonking 25 years in the clink."

    Misdemeanor = less than a year in jail

    Class 3 misdemeanor = least serious of all misdemeanors.

    I smell a troll.

  13. DaveBrooks · 867 days ago

    "...or suggest any lewd or lascivious act..." ... that'll fill up the prisons with jr and sr highschoolers along with the legislative body enacting this law in about a week... perverts in the state about a day ... radio hosts in one hour... : )

  14. dclaar · 867 days ago

    Would you have had the same concerns with the law as it was originally written? That you'd go to jail for telling off a telemarketer? No? Nothing to see here, it is just an update so that they can prosecute people who seriously harass someone, but use new technology.

  15. Citizen_Jerry · 867 days ago

    Can you be thrown in jail for writing the Arizona legislature has been seized by stupidity?

  16. Pete · 867 days ago

    It would appear that you didn't read the whole sentence. The last half reads "...and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person." One can be amazingly annoying and offensive without uttering a single profanity or suggesting any lewd acts or threats. The baser forms of trolls will have to up their vocabulary.

    • Richard · 867 days ago

      But what constitutes "obscene"? Some people consider the word "evolution" to be obscene, and get very offended if anyone uses it.

      And, in an adult conversation, why the fudging hall shouldn't I be allowed to call a melon-farmer a melon-farming melon-farmer? That makes me think of Sheila Broflovski:

      "Just remember what the MPAA says: Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don't say any naughty words!"

  17. Kamron · 867 days ago

    The hell!?! Don't we see how little by little civil liberties and basic rights are being taken away? You are telling me that I can't call and "a-hole" an "a-hole" on the net? It is my freedom to express my opinions however I see fit or is it?

  18. San Joaquin · 867 days ago

    The Arizona state legislature is actually a legislative troll, tabling various laws like this all the time. The amazing thing is that it passed. Should the law be extended to include other public fora like the suggestions bulletin board at the local Whole Foods?

    America should really consider ratifying something like a "freedom of public speech" "bill of rights" to prevent its several states from making mistakes like this.

  19. ascension2020 · 867 days ago

    Seems like a lot of people are having knee-jerk reactions to this. What they're TRYING to do is good. There should be laws in place to protect people from harassment. They obviously made the wording of the law way, way too broad and it needs to be corrected, but that doesn't mean it's bad to have anti-harassment laws in place.

    From what I gather in the article, this was a law that already existed for telephones and had the wording changed to include cyberspace. With telephones it's pretty easy to prove intent. If someone calls you up and starts harassing you then they obviously intended to do it (unless it's a wrong number, in which case they still intended to do it to somebody). With cyberspace it obviously isn't so easy to prove intent.

    It was a mistake to just change the wording and push out the law because it makes it way too broad, but it doesn't mean that their goal is to trample free speech and do away with the first amendment.

  20. T.Anne · 867 days ago

    The key to it is the word "intent" Naked Security articles may be intended to get people thinking about security, but, I do not believe, they are intended to offend, harass, annoy, terrify, etc...

    I think the problem will be proving intent. What would keep a troll from saying "hey, I was just posting my opinion - I wasn't trying to offend anyone"... and how would you prove they did have that intent? An opinion, in most cases, will be offensive to SOMEONE... but that doesn't mean the intent of sharing that opinion was to offend that person. I think they'd have to have a lot of documentation about that person's behavior towards the "victim" and others to prove there is a specific intent directed to the "victim"... simply being offended isn't enough to prove intent.

    • I would love to agree with you that there would always be an emphasis on proving the intent of the writer, but in some instances the intent is overshadowed by the impact of the statements.

      In a recent case in the UK (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17515992)

      "Jim Brisbane, chief crown prosecutor for CPS Cymru-Wales, said: "Racist language is inappropriate in any setting and through any media."

      The person who made those comments got jailtime.

  21. nige the naughty · 867 days ago

    'Annoy'! there are hoards of precious/pompous/prats whose sole purpose in life seems to be to get anoyed if their hobbyhorse of the moment is questioned. Since I take care to avoid visiting the excited states of hysteria I shall clearly have to seek out the p/p/ps of Arizona and go out of my way to offend them in the politest possible way, definitely no profanity or threats of bestiality to their hamsters.

  22. Charles · 867 days ago

    The law was probably for cyber bullying, giving Arizona the benefit of the doubt, and not for Internet trolling. Although seeing how vague this is written and how "smart" the Arizona public decision makers seem to be they will make it apply to trolling.

  23. Internet Troll · 867 days ago

    US State of Arizona: F**k Off! I really, really, really intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend you and be found guilty under Arizona House Bill 2549! Come and get me! :P

    Greetings from Bulgaria to all free people.

  24. sharp · 866 days ago

    This is unconstitutional, as I have my freedom of Speech. I can say what I want, where I want, how I want. If your are Offended or Annoyed, then I suggest you use your freedom of choice to not read it, and avoid those sites. It is also the Web Masters decision to take action, not the states.

    Wish I lived in Arizona to file lawsuit against this, and make them revise and change their law. The next time the governer says, Middle/lower class I will file charges using their law against them, as they used the Electronic device (Camera) which has offended me, and I am annoyed by their presence.

  25. NinjaMice · 842 days ago

    So what about those 'sensative' people online, who like to get around pushing their world view like Hitler and are offended by everything and anything which is not of their own creation; what kind of court and judge would I get when I tell them to 'get a life or die trying to find one'?

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.