Hello there, Rhode Island General Assembly! Do you have any stories of Great Butthurt to share with us? Oh, you do! Here is a story of hurt feelings and “cyber harassment” that isn’t really much in the way of harassment, and of the American Civil Liberties Union explaining to the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office that posting mean things about a political opponent can be rude, douchey, and a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service without it also being a crime. Let’s see what this tempest in a lobster pot is all about.
There are these two members of the state Lege who don’t like each other much. There’s Democratic state Rep. Scott Guthrie, a former firefighter and walrus impersonator from Coventry. He pushed a bill that allowed a local fire district that was in receivership to have taxing authority, a move that was opposed by Republican state Sen. Nicholas Kettle, also of Coventry, who is all of 23 years old, a tea party favorite, and a humorous fellow who mocks the homeless and fancies himself a modern Thomas Nast, as seen in that hilarious cartoon of Guthrie as an octopus up there. And just to prove that he is a James O’Keefe wannabe, Kettle didn’t merely draw a funny cartoon of Guthrie — he also posted it to a fake Facebook page titled “Scott Guthrie State Representative.” Text accompanying the picture defined an “Octo-Guthrie” as
“A slimy, bottom-dwelling parasitic creature primarily known for living off the wealth of other, more productive beings. It achieves this dubious distinction by way of nefariously obtained special privileges of the back room variety. (See, also “Political Hack”).’”
There’s just no satire like Tea Party satire, is there? So that’s where the First Amendment comes in — when Guthrie found out about the page, he went to the police, complaining that the page constituted “cyber harassment” and slander and maybe even identity thefting. The police investigated, and based on advice from an attorney in the office of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, determined that there was no crime and no harassment. For that matter, even though any objective evaluation would have to find Kettle a jerkwad and his cartoon criminally inept, that’s also just a metaphor.
And it should have all just ended there, except that a spokesperson for A.G. Kilmartin added that this was only an “initial assessment,” and that Kilmartin planned to review the case to see if there’s a crime in there anywhere. The Providence Journal notes that Kilmartin has tried unsuccessfully to “convince the General Assembly to pass legislation creating a new category of crime for ‘online impersonation,’” so he may think this would make for a good test case.
Which is why the ACLU of Rhode Island has weighed in, explaining that satire can be obnoxious and even unfunny, but that it isn’t illegal. And even though Facebook doesn’t allow accounts with fake names, that’s a company policy, not a law. We have to agree with them on this: Americans have an absolute right to be doucheweasels in print, even under a fake name (as long as they aren’t actually defrauding anyone, of course).
The ACLU called on the A.G to “immediately close the case,” which didn’t win it any love from Kilmartin’s office, which released an email Friday saying that it had received the ACLU’s letter, but adding that “The ACLU does not dictate how this office proceeds with cases.” So THERE.
In conclusion, we think people in Rhode Island need to smoke more weed and chill the fuck out.
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