Where Does Free Speech End And Criminal Cyber Bullying Begin?

by Travis Mateer

The question posed in the title of this post has been discussed for well over a decade. In 2008, for example, the ACLU wrote about free speech and cyber bullying after a student committed suicide after being harassed online.

So-called “cyber-bullying” is the most recent threat to online speech to come into the public vernacular. The term has become popularized following the much-publicized story of Megan Meier, a teen who committed suicide after reading abusive messages allegedly sent through MySpace by a classmate’s mother. The incident has become the latest rallying cry to regulate content on the Internet.

“Cyber-bullying” is a loaded term to be avoided by anyone interested in engaging in an objective look at online speech. Like past legislative attempts to justify online censorship, such as the “Deleting Online Predators Act” (DOPA) and the “Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act” (SAFE Act), the term is intended to stack the deck against the First Amendment. Specifically, it is meant to imply the regulation of unlawful conduct, not the censorship of protected speech, under the guise of protecting our children.

A more recent case at Boston College has brought this subject back into the headlines. The young woman who pled guilty to manslaughter, Inyoung You, was VERY instrumental in driving her boyfriend to leap to his death from a tall building.

Here’s more about this despicable woman’s despicable behavior:

Over the years, we have discussed the prosecution of people who encourage friends or strangers to commit suicide. I have raised free speech concerns over prior prosecutions in the ambiguous line often drawn by prosecutors. The most recent case of Inyoung You, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter last week after repeatedly telling her boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, to kill himself. Both were students at Boston College and had a tumultuous 18 month relationship.

The couple met at Boston College and police say that You was highly abusive to Urtule. Her calls for his suicide reportedly began after she learned that he had met with his former girlfriend.

In a case similar to that of the Michele Carter prosecution in Massachusetts, You encouraged Urtula to kill himself. This case, however, is even worse with You sending a “barrage” of more than 75,000 text messages, including repeated calls for him to kill himself. In one text to the 22-year-old, she told him “do everyone a favor and go fking kill yourself, you’re such a fking stupid ass worthless s**t.” Urtule proceeded to jump off the top of a building just hours before his graduation with his family from New Jersey waiting to watch him walk across the stage.

In Montana, efforts have been made over the years to enact some kind of anti-cyber bullying legislation. Six years ago those efforts were coming from Ellie Hill (AKA Ellie Boldman). The emphasis is mine:

Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, proposed a measure in the House Judiciary Committee that would make online harassment of children a misdemeanor offense.

Specifically, House Bill 317 targets bullying on social media by criminalizing electronic communication of any statements, photos or information meant to torment a minor.

Anti-bullying legislation has been proposed in the Legislature five of the last six sessions. Every measure died and was opposed primarily by Republican lawmakers who said school boards should not be forced to adopt a specific policy.

“That is not this bill,” Hill said. “This bill is not about schoolyard bullying or amending school policies. This bill acknowledges that cyberbullying doesn’t just happen in school.”

It’s important to note the bill introduced by Rep. Hill would have only applied to CHILDREN, not adults. This means the family of an adult woman who engages in an extramarital affair with a politician’s husband, and is then bullied to the point of committing suicide, would have no legal recourse to bring criminal charges against that politician.

This scenario is totally hypothetical and any similarity to rumors about an actual scenario like this is purely coincidental.

The biggest challenges to the protection of free speech are usually the most reprehensible uses of language. State Representatives who would like to censor some forms of reprehensible speech should think about how these laws could be applied to them before taking up a bill like this again.

Thanks for reading.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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