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Cyberbullying Law Violates Free Speech, Court Rules

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New York's highest court ruled last week that a "local law" adopted to criminalize cyberbullying violates the First Amendment because it is overly broad in what it restricts.

Marquan W. Mackey-Meggs, a student in Cohoes, N.Y., was arrested in June 2011 for creating a Facebook page to which he posted photos of classmates with derogatory and sexual captions. He was charged with a misdemeanor under an Albany County measure that prohibited cyberbullying, describing it as any act of electronic communication that disseminates "embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs"; "private, personal, false, or sexual information"; or "hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person."

But the law was written so broadly, the court said, that it could apply to acts well out of the scope of its authors' intentions, even a ham radio transmission or a telegram meant to annoy an adult.

Vol. 33, Issue 36, Page 4

Published in Print: July 9, 2014, as Cyberbullying Law Violates Free Speech, Court Rules
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