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Cyberbullying: Protected Speech or Not?


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11/18/2016
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Cyberbullying is an unfortunate and common occurrence with the rise in social media.  Many states have created anti-cyberbully laws, but the issue is that these laws are often ambiguous and may infringe on First Amendment free speech rights. North Carolina's Supreme Court just recently overturned a lower court ruling in order to hold that the state's law that criminalizes cyberbullying is unconstitutional becuase it reaches protected speech.  The Court compared online comments to handing out pamphlets on the street or posting flyers on public bulletin boards and that each of these actions are protected under the First Amendment.  The Court said that the law did not pass the strict scrutiny test required to be found constitutional as the law did not employ the narrowest means possible to reach its intended purpose - to protect minors from physical and psychological harm.  The language of the law makes it illegal to use a computer to "post or encourage others to post on the internet private, personal or sexual information pertaining to minors" with the intent to intimidate or torment the minor.  Since many of the terms are vague, the Court held that it was too broad and infringed on First Amendment rights.  Other states have similarly dealt with and struck down cyberbullying laws that they found to be too broad.  Supporters of such laws believe there is a way to craft the laws such that they will criminalize harassing behavior online and avoid First Amendment violations in order to fully protect people from cyberbullying.



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