ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that a local cyberbullying law is overbroad and violates Constitutional free speech protections, noting that “the First Amendment protects annoying and embarrassing speech.”
The Court of Appeals ruling concerned the case of a high school student who anonymously posted photographs of fellow students on Facebook, along with personal details and offensive descriptions of their supposed sexual behavior.
The teen was charged with violating a 2010 Albany County anti-cyberbullying law that makes it a misdemeanor to post “embarrassing or sexually explicit” photos or “personal, false or sexual information” that is intended to “harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm.”
The court ruled that while the teen’s actions were “repulsive and harmful,” the county law is overly broad.
“It appears that the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult,” Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote in the decision, which was supported 5-2.
The county plans to rewrite the law to address the court’s concerns, according to Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy.
“The law is needed to protect children from cyberbullying,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters. “I believe that we are on the right track and that we can work together to craft a law that both protects free speech and keep kids.
A state law prohibiting cyberbullying was passed in 2012.