The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that an Albany County law banning so-called cyberbullying is a violation of the First Amendment.
“It appears that the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying,” Judge Victoria Graffeo argued, “including, for example, an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult.”
In a 5-2 decision the court ruled the law went too far and said it is possible to enact legislation outlawing cyberbullying over social networks without violating the First Amendment.
The constitutionality of the county law was challenged by Marquan Mackey-Meggs. In 2001 at the age of fifteen Mackey-Meggs pleaded guilty to posting on his Facebook page sexual comments alongside photos of high school classmates.
The Albany County law was passed in November, 2010. It designated cyberbullying as an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in prison.
The law defined cyberbullying as “any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending 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.”