Rhode Island Bill Would Criminalize Offensive Speech

Rhode Island AG Peter Kilmartin

Rhode Island AG Peter Kilmartin

It may feel more like the USSR than Rhode Island if state Senate bill S2630 passes. The proposed legislation, promoted by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, would criminalize folks who say the wrong things on social media, such as what happens when one trolls another.

Specific points of the bill include:

Posting message through electronic medium.
(a) A person shall not post a message to any other person, through the use of any medium of communication, including the Internet or a computer, computer program, computer system, or computer network, or other electronic medium of communication, without the intended recipient’s consent, if all of the following apply:
(1) The person knows or has reason to know that posting the message could cause two (2) or more separate non continuous acts of unconsented contact with the recipient;
(2) Posting the message is intended to cause conduct that would make the intended recipient feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested;
(3) Conduct arising from posting the message would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested; and
(4) Conduct arising from posting the message causes the intended recipient to suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.
(b) Every person convicted of an offense under this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor for the first offense and shall be subject to imprisonment not exceeding one year, a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both, and an order of restitution as provided herein.
In fact, you don’t even have to be in the state to be charged with this.
(e) A person may be prosecuted in this state for violating or attempting to violate this section only if one of the following applies:
(1) The person posts the message while in this state;
(2) Conduct arising from posting the message occurs in this state;
(3) The intended recipient is present in this state at the time the offense or any element of the offense occurs; or
(4) The person posting the message knows that the intended recipient resides in this state.
Unlike current state “cyber-stalking” laws, which require police to prove a pattern of harassing behavior, someone could be prosecuted under the new Kilmartin bill for a single post if at least two others pile on with “separate non-continuous acts of unconsented contact” with the victim. The original post would have to be made with the intent to cause emotional distress and be expected to cause distress in a “reasonable person.”
The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, and in the House by Rep. Kathleen Fogarty, D-South Kingstown, was modeled after legislation in Michigan, according to Kilmartin spokeswoman Amy Kempe.
So watch what you say online, they’re watching you.
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