A reminder to people writing fake blogs and fake social networking profiles: Online impersonation became punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines in California this year — and it's not clear satire is exempted.
Under Senate Bill 1411, it is now illegal to "knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another actual person through or on an Internet Web site... for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person." What does it mean to "harm" someone via online impersonation? How obvious does a satire have to be in order to avoid becoming a "credible" impersonation?
Supporters say the law will be interpreted to target internet stalkers and harassers, but critics like the Electronic Frontier Foundation worry that the vague language could be used against the mushrooming ranks of satirical online impersonators like The Yes Men, who arguably intend to harm the reputation of their targets by making fun of them.
Lawyer-turned-blogger Mike Arrington thinks the courts will sort everything out, eventually, but in the meantimeno one wants to be the test case. Which means an important Constitutional precedent may well be influenced by whichever celebrity is crazy and angry enough to step forward and sue his or her mockers. Dina Lohan? Steve Jobs? Or maybe your civil liberties will be shaped forever by the landmark case of Jonah Hill vs. @JohahHill_Jew. We can hardly wait.