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Bill would make online 'catfishing' iIllegal in Wisconsin

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Using social media to impersonate someone would be illegal in Wisconsin under a proposal state lawmakers took up on Thursday.

Under the bill, online "catfishing" — a common term for using social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, to pretend to be someone you're not — would be a misdemeanor.

Current state law penalizes impersonating someone via email, but social media isn’t included in the statute.

"This bill really updates the language for a modern world and ensures law enforcement can combat this growing internet issue," said state Rep. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford, the bill’s sponsor.

Under the bill, someone who impersonates another on social media with the intent to do things such as intimidate, harass or defraud could be charged with a crime. They could be fined up to $1,000 and spend up to 90 days in jail.

At Thursday’s public hearing on the bill, Linda Johnson of Madison testified about her family's experience with catfishing, saying people should be aware of its dire consequences.

"Can you imagine the devastation that could be wielded at unsuspected children if social media accounts of relatives or close friends are taken over by deviants wanting to do them harm?" she said.

The bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, in the state Senate, has yet to be voted on in committee.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news. 

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