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Whew. It's No Longer a Crime to Tell Online Lies in Rhode Island

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By Andrew Lu on June 29, 2012 6:52 AM

Call it vestiges of New England Puritanism. Last week, a small town in Massachusetts made news with a ban on swearing. This week, Rhode Island is in the news for rescinding a law that made it illegal to lie over the Internet.

What's going on up in the Northeast lately?

Passed in the nascent days of the Internet, when there was still fear of the unknown world wide web, the Rhode Island legislature passed an Internet law that made it a crime to tell a fib over the Internet, reports the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps not foreseeing the emergence of online dating, message boards, and other forums where lies and exaggerations proliferate, almost every citizen of Rhode Island could have been branded a criminal in the time since the law passed.

Ironically, in a new law that makes it illegal to tell certain lies over the Internet, the Rhode Island legislature simultaneously decriminalized telling lies over the Internet generally.

The new law's opening paragraph makes it illegal to lie on the Internet for profit. As this is likely fraud, there is nothing surprising about this provision. However, in the next paragraph, the obscure 1989 law is repealed, reports the Times. It's not clear if in the 23 years of the law's existence, anyone was ever prosecuted for the offense. The old law did carry a $500 penalty and possible one year prison term.

The Rhode Island Internet lie ban was passed only 23 years ago. Since then, it has just become commonplace knowledge that you can't trust 99% of what people say over the web. In fact, now we have reached a point where we can laugh at the state for once even passing such a law.

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