Search Results for ‘cyber bullying’

Maryland toughens “cyber-bullying” law yet further

“We’re not interested in charging children or putting them in jail or fining them,” says a campaigner for Maryland’s “cyber-bullying” law, “Grace’s Law 2.0,” which is drafted to do exactly those things. “What we want to do is change the behavior so the internet is more kind,” says the same campaigner regarding the new law, which would encourage online users to turn each other in for potential 10-year prison terms over single instances of certain kinds of malicious, abusive speech, and is being billed as going farther than any other law in the country, as well as farther than the earlier Maryland law passed in 2013.

Bruce DePuyt at Maryland Matters reports that Senate Judiciary Chair Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County):

said the 2013 law required that abusive comments be sent to the individual and be part of a pattern of conduct. With the rise of social media, that proved to be too high a hurdle, he said.

Under the new law, “a single significant act can land you in trouble,” he told reporters.

Due credit to the ACLU of Maryland, which called out this dangerous venture in speech regulation:

Toni Holness, the group’s public policy director, said in February that the bill fails to adequately define what constitutes a “true threat.”

Holness also was concerned about other words in the bill that had not been defined: encourage, provoke, sexual information, intimidating, tormenting.

“There’s way too much prosecutorial discretion in these terms that are not defined,” she said.

I criticized the bill in February and noted language from Zirkin suggesting that the Court of Appeals, as distinct from the legislature, would sort out its constitutionality. Before that, I criticized the 2015 law as itself going too far (more). DePuyt reports that Zirkin may approach U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) about introducing a similar bill on the federal level. Let’s hope Raskin says no to that bad idea. [cross-posted from Free State Notes; see also earlier]

Related: an Ohio student has been arrested and faces expulsion over a Twitter account on which he made vicious comments about female classmates; whatever view the law takes of the prospective expulsion of 18-year-old Mehros Nassersharifi by Perrysburg High School, his arrest, on charges of telecommunications harassment, may overstep the First Amendment [NBC24, Hans Bader, Eugene Volokh (reworded to reflect fuller accounts which make clear that the student’s offensive speech went further than simply “rating” of classmates)]

New York’s very broad cyberbullying bill 2.0

An earlier cyberbullying bill in New York was struck down by the state’s highest court as in violation of the First Amendment, and now a new version… well, let’s just say that it has free speech problems too, which don’t get conjured away just because a person named in and distressed by speech is a minor [Eugene Volokh, Eric Turkewitz first post with explanatory followup, Scott Greenfield first and second posts, earlier]

North Carolina high court strikes down cyberbullying law

The North Carolina Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional the state’s recently enacted so-called cyberbullying ban [Scott Greenfield] The court noted that the “statute criminalizes posting online ‘private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor'” even though “these terms are not defined by the statute.” And the definition urged by the state would restrict a potentially wide range of discussion of “personal… information pertaining to a minor,” at least when proceeding from prohibited “intent to intimidate or torment.”

Earlier, New York’s highest court said the similar law in that state could not pass First Amendment muster. And a Eugene Volokh amicus brief challenges Maryland’s cyberbullying law, which I criticized at the time of its passage three years ago.

“New York’s highest court strikes down cyber-bullying law”

We warned that there were First Amendment problems with the overbreadth of these legal proposals, and the New York Court of Appeals sees things the same way. [People v. Marquan M.; Volokh] Two dissenters would have cut down the scope of the law significantly and deemed the remainder constitutional, but the majority invalidated it in its entirety, whether applied to minors or persons of full legal age. We’ve earlier criticized cyber-bullying enactments and proposals in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere.

Virginia lawmaker introduces “cyber-bullying” ban that includes adults

The measure, introduced by Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna), would criminalize online “bullying,” defined among other things to include behavior (or speech) intended to “harass” or “humiliate” when it “is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma,” but purportedly excluding “ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict.” Unlike Maryland’s enactment of “Grace’s Law,” which I criticized last year, this one would not be limited to speech directed at minors. Another prerequisite for liability is that the online verbal aggression “involves a real or perceived power imbalance between” the parties, which can be expected to involve courts in some delicate inquiries. Eugene Volokh criticizes (“dangerous and deeply unsound”).

Hans Bader on the Maryland cyber-bullying bill

He follows up on my criticism from yesterday:

Under the First Amendment, the government has far less power to restrict speech when it acts as a sovereign (such as when it criminally prosecutes people for their speech) than when it uses non-criminal disciplinary tools to regulate speech in its own government offices or (in certain circumstances) the public schools. …

… Maryland’s law restricts speech in society generally, by both minors and adults. The government obviously cannot rely on public school officials’ custodial and tutelary power over student speech to restrict the speech of adult non-students, much less their speech outside the schools. … The fact that speech is emotionally distressing may be a factor in whether to discipline a student for it under school rules, but it is not a justification for criminal prosecution, or even, generally speaking, a tort lawsuit. …

Activists claim bullying is an “epidemic” and a “pandemic.” But in reality, the rate of bullying has steadily diminished in the nation’s schools.

More: Mike Masnick at TechDirt criticizes the new law and kindly quotes my piece.

Maryland’s speech-chilling new “cyberbullying” law

I’ve got a short critique up now at Cato (earlier on the topic here). Proponents styled the enactment “Grace’s Law,” after a Howard County teenager who committed suicide; here’s Radley Balko on why “Laws named after crime victims and dead people are usually a bad idea.” While I believe the courts will eventually get around to striking it down, in the mean time the law will operate to chill some online speech.

P.S. Some recent thoughts from EFF’s Hanni Fakhoury on how laws can address the problem of harassment without being speech-unfriendly.