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]
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.
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.
Prof. Lyrissa Lidsky at Prawfsblawg, in contrast to some other academics, agrees that the First Amendment needs to be taken seriously in considering proposals for “criminalizing ‘adolescent cruelty.'” Scott Greenfield is not reassured.
“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)]
- We’ll pass the bill first, and let the courts tell us later whether it violates the First Amendment. That’s not how it’s supposed to work [my Free State Notes on a Maryland “cyberbullying” bill]
- Local laws requiring government contractors to disclose/disclaim ties to the anti-Israel BDS movement have rightly come under criticism. Will that spill over to a constitutionally dubious new Los Angeles ordinance requiring contractors to disclose ties with an advocacy group devoted to a different issue, the NRA? [Eugene Volokh]
- “Lust on Trial,” new book by Amy Werbel on celebrated vice crusader Anthony Comstock [Kurt Conklin with Alex Joseph, Hue (Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC); podcasts at FIRE with Nico Perrino and ABA Journal with Lee Rawles]
- “The Rushdie affair became a template for global intellectual terrorism” from Paris and Copenhagen to Garland, Tex.; in a different way, it also foreshadowed the far pettier heresy hunts and sanctity trials of callout culture [Jonathan Rauch]
- $250 million libel suits as a fantasy way to own the libs? In real life meanwhile big-ticket libel suits are used to silence conservatives [Competitive Enterprise Institute press release (leading media orgs including RCFP, SPJ, ASNE support rehearing of D.C. court ruling favorable toward Michael Mann defamation action), NR editors, Jack Fowler] “The media’s Covington coverage was appalling, but Nick Sandman’s libel lawsuit is not the answer” [Robby Soave, Irina Manta] Another part of the forest: Justice Clarence Thomas criticizes New York Times v. Sullivan [Will Baude, Cass Sunstein, Ramesh Ponnuru]
- “A new documentary showcased by PBS presents Montana as a success story of campaign finance reform and Wisconsin’s John Doe investigations as a failure.” But “Dark Money” has some omissions [Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown and Steve Klein of the Pillar of Law Institute]
- Video now online of Nadine Strossen at Cato speaking on her new book Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. And John Samples kicks off series of blog posts about book [first, second]
- Press vs. President: “the more tightly regulated media landscape of the early 1970s” played directly into Nixon’s hands [Matt Welch]
- Romance writer’s bid to stop authors from using word ‘cocky’ fails in court [Alison Flood/Guardian, earlier]
- “New law forces Google to suspend political ads in Washington state” [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica]
- “The Minnesota criminal harassment statute is equally dubious, applying when a person sends two or more tweets ‘with the intent to abuse, disturb, or cause distress.’ Really…?” [Venkat Balasubramani, Technology and Marketing Law Blog] “Crime in D.C. to Negligently Cause ‘Significant Mental Suffering’ by Saying Two Non-Political Things About Someone” [Eugene Volokh] “NY State Legislators Unanimously Pass A Cyberbullying Bill That Can’t Be Bothered To Define Cyberbullying” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt; Eric Turkowitz]
- Blame failings of copyright law, not scholarly neglect, for long inattention to Zora Neale Hurston manuscript [Ted Genoways, Washington Post/Valley News]
- Tomorrow (Tues., Dec. 6) Cato Digital presents panel discussion “Free Speech in the Age of Trump” with Flemming Rose, Nick Gillespie, and Kat Murti [register or watch live online]
- Eventually, Supreme Court will have to consider a First Amendment challenge to cyberbullying laws [ABA Journal]
- Tactical use of libel suits cries out for remedy, but some remedies that are being proposed are hard to square with federalism [Sasha Moss, R Street]
- Bill pending in Congress to protect consumer reviews (Yelp, etc.) would allow special restrictions on speech “inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristic” which could prove an ominous precedent [Eugene Volokh]
- Is there a prospect for sanctions should Donald Trump sue the press for defamation? [Eric Turkewitz, pre-election if that matters]
- Count the ways: “The government has double standards about freedom of speech” [Hans Bader]
- “Don’t Ground ‘Uber in the Sky'” [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer on Cato Institute brief in FAA v. FlyteNow]
- Trademark spats bog down the world of craft brewing and those over place names are among the worst [Timothy Geigner/TechDirt on Miami Brewing/M.I.A. Beer Co. conflict]
- After the Freddie Gray trials, redistricting, StingRay, cyberbullying, eminent domain and more in my new Maryland roundup at Free State Notes;
- “Attorney: DOJ’s pursuit of Post Office’s competitors shows hypocrisy of administration” [Jessica Karmasek/Legal NewsLine (fixed link), earlier on FedEx trial here, here, here]
- Trial lawyers seize on New Jersey law to file wave of cases challenging online agreements [The Economist]
- FDA’s war on vaping pleases big tobacco firms, makes little sense otherwise [Jonathan Adler, Jacob Sullum]