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California Court Rules Cyber-Bullying Is Not Free Speech

Online threats of violence and acts of cyber-bullying are not protected free speech. That's according to a California appeals court that upheld a decision from a lower court, allowing a hate crimes and defamation suit (PDF) to continue. The case dates back to 2005, when a then 15-year-old student at a private high school in Los Angeles launched a personal Web page to promote his pursuit of a film and singing career.

When his classmates discovered the site, the student, who used the pseudonym Danny Alexander, became the target of threats and derogatory taunts regarding his alleged homosexuality. Danny was encouraged by police and school officials to transfer schools (which he did), though the investigation ended with police deciding not to pursue criminal prosecution. Danny's parents (understandably) felt the need to secure some sense of justice, and sued six students and their parents for hate crimes and defamation.

The defendants argued that their taunts, such as "faggot, I'm going to kill you," were made in a "jocular manner." One student claimed that Danny's blatant self-promotion and arrogant attitude offended the Buddhist call for "quiet understatement." That defendant, however, never identified himself as a practicing Buddhist, and responded to Danny's narcissism by threatening to kill him with an ice pick.

The judges ruling in the majority referred to the posted messages as "unequivocal" and "serious expression[s] of intent to inflict bodily harm." Even if the threats of violence were empty, claims that you plan to put an ice pick through someone's head or rip their heart out aren't usually made in a "jocular manner." Sending a similar threat via snail-mail would not fall under the guise of free speech, so we see no reason that this should be any different. [From: Wired]

Tags: california, CyberBullying, defamation, FreeSpeech, hate crime, HateCrime, ice pick, IcePick, law, libel, teens, top