New York’s top court struck down a law that made cyberbullying a crime, reports the Wall Street Journal. It was a test case of recent state and local statutes that target online speech. The New York Court of Appeals held 5-2 yesterday that a 2010 Albany County law prohibited a vast swath of speech “far beyond the cyberbullying of children,” in violation of the First Amendment. The ruling could stand as a guidepost for other state high courts as well as for states and localities considering criminal penalties for cyberbullying. Four other New York counties and more than a dozen states, including Louisiana and North Carolina, have similar laws.
The Albany law made it a crime to electronically communicate “private, personal, false, or sexual information,” intended to “harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person” for no legitimate purpose. Cohoes High School student Marquan Mackey-Meggs, 15, was charged for posting photos on Facebook of teens with captions with graphic and sexual comments. Judge Victoria Graffeo called the posts “repulsive and harmful” but declined to uphold the law in a form that barred sexually explicit photographs and private or personal sexual information, sent with the intent to harm. “Even if the First Amendment allows a cyberbullying statute of the limited nature proposed by Albany County, the local law here was not drafted in that manner,” she wrote.