The Slatest

Are Cyberbullying Laws Legal? New York Court Will Hear Challenge Today

Inside the New York State Court of Appeals building.

New York State Court of Appeals

The New York State Court of Appeals will hear a challenge today to a local cyberbullying law that was used to charge a high-school student as an adult for posting disparaging messages (including sexual material) anonymously on Facebook. From the Wall Street Journal:

The 2010 Albany County law, one of more than a dozen around the country that criminalize cyberbullying, pits free-speech advocates against a community that has given prosecutors a larger role in affairs that typically had been handled by schools.

The court’s ruling could set the tone for other state high courts hearing challenges to such laws, as well as for states and localities considering criminal penalties for cyberbullying, legal experts said. Besides Albany, four other New York counties and more than a dozen states, including Louisiana and North Carolina, have similar laws.

The student’s lawyers say that, while his behavior was inappropriate, the law violates the First Amendment by criminalizing vague, broad categories of speech. Prosecutors argue that the law is merely a prohibition on the emotional abuse of minors.