Federal court challenge of Ohio online harassment law

A coalition of liberals and conservatives are suing in federal court on First Amendment grounds over a new Ohio law that states: “No person shall knowingly post a text or audio statement or an image on an Internet web site or web page for the purpose of abusing, threatening or harassing another person.” The plaintiffs are targeting “abusing” and “harassing,” rather than “threatening.” (Courthouse News Service, May 18, 2017, by Jeff D. Gorman)

The lawsuit contends that the online harassment law “criminalizes speech about an unwilling subject” and that the law restricts free speech rights with an overbroad prohibition of criticism, sometimes delivered with invective and ridicule, of public officials. (Cleveland.com, May 17, 2017, by Eric Heisig)

Under the law, saying anything critical about anyone, national politicians included, could be a crime if it is determined in court that that you were being abusing or harassing. In Ohio courts, abuse means mistreat and harass means “to annoy or torment repeatedly and persistently.” In effect, Ohio outlaws much critical commentary that should be protected under the First Amendment. (The Washington Post, May 17, 2017, by Eugene Volokh)

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