Mashable reports that Arizona rep. Michelle Ugenti has proposed a bill to combat online identity impersonation. The bill would make creating a website or profile in someone else’s name a felony if done with intent to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten.” Her reasoning, as told to The Arizona Republic, is that “the Internet has gone from a novelty to having a position of credibility, and it’s appropriate to have statutes that address it specifically.”
On one hand, the bill makes sense. Fake, malicious Facebook accounts are increasingly common, especially among youth, as a form of cyberbullying. Many states have legislature addressing online impersonation, but Representative Ugenti’s proposed bill would make it a federal-level offense. The bill’s detractors say it could be used to infringe on First Amendment rights, interfering with parody accounts meant for humor or satire. Ugenti insists that the bill is meant only to combat fake accounts made with malicious intent, but who defines malicious?
I think the debate is indicative of a larger growing pain the Internet is feeling. Anonymity has been a long standing pillar of our online lives. For better or worse, we could be whoever we wanted and say whatever we wanted with little consequence. However, with the proliferation of social media profiles like Facebook, our real identity is more and more a part of our online existence.
When I first entered the Internet sphere I used silly screen names like “ilikeorangemornu” and “mredpopo” for my online profiles, but now I use my real name for everything. These profiles aren’t just fun, they’re part of who I am. My Twitter handle is at the top of my resume. My boss, pastor and grandparents are friends with my on Facebook. If someone pretended to be me online, it could be destructive.
The old is clashing with the new. Many of us still think that what happens online is of less consequence than what happens in real life, but that’s not the case. What we say online has weight and it’s all public. It’s not a bad thing. The Internet has brought an unthinkable level of connection amongst people from any walk of life. But there are going to be some conflicts as we learn how to live with this new level of connectedness.