The House of Representatives just approved a new bill that increases the enforcement of laws protecting people from online harassment, threats and cyber-stalking.

Although the bill was once just a standard appropriations bill, Democrat Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts made sure that wording within the bill prioritized protecting people from online bullying, harassment, death threats and stalking.

Not only did the House of Representatives agree to the additional wording added to the bill, but they also approved it.

"Too many women have had their lives upended by the severe threats and harassment they have received online, and they often feel they have nowhere to turn for help," says Clark. "These threats cause fear for personal safety, create a chilling effect on free speech, and have a negative economic impact for women conducting business online."

According to Clark, the appropriate laws are "already on the books," but haven't been strongly enforced before now.

For example, when #GamerGate target Anita Sarkeesian scheduled a speech at Utah State University, she received online threats of violence against herself and those attending the speech. Although she originally wanted to continue with her appearance, university officials refused to do pat downs or use metal detectors, using Utah's open carry laws as an excuse. As a result, Sarkeesian canceled her speech.

"According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of adult Internet users have witnessed online harassment, and 25 percent have seen someone threatened with physical violence," writes Clark on her website. "Another study by the University of Maryland reports that women receive sexually explicit or threatening messages 27 times more often than men."

Although Sarkeesian, as well as the many other women receiving death threats against themselves and their families through #GamerGate have reported their threats to federal agencies, no arrests have yet been made.

Now, though, it seems that the Department of Justice will be held more accountable for making these cases more of a priority, although how they'll carry out their investigations of online abuse remains a mystery. Most of these online threats are anonymous, so it will take some serious cyber-investigation to trace them to their original sources.

Perhaps focusing the Department of Justice's efforts on the problem, though, will have its intended effect. Let's hope we soon see arrests of those involved in Internet bullying, harassment, threats and stalking. It's likely that using the possibility of arrest as a deterrent could result in less incidents of online harassment and threats.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore | Flickr  

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