A proposed local cyber bullying law will do little to protect children while criminalizing a broad range of constitutionally protected speech, according to testimony the New York Civil Liberties Union will deliver tonight before the Monroe County Legislature.
"We all want to protect children from cyber bullying, but this proposal is the wrong approach," said KaeLyn Rich, director of the NYCLU’s Genesee Valley Chapter, who will deliver the NYCLU’s testimony. "It won’t prevent cyber bullying, but it will criminalize a wide range of First Amendment-protected speech for both adults and children."
The bill proposes to create the new misdemeanor crime of “cyber bullying” that is punishable by up to $1000 and/or one year of imprisonment.
The NYCLU maintains that the proposal’s punitive measures conflict with positive approaches to addressing bullying, such as those mandated by the Dignity for All Students Act, a state law that takes effect in July. The Dignity Act requires school districts to train educators to effectively identify and address bullying. It also requires schools to adopt curricula that will teach children to treat each other respectfully.
"There are better ways to address bullying than by throwing people behind bars for posting insensitive and foolish things on the Internet," Rich said. "The Dignity Act’s positive model is proven to work. Local lawmakers can help protect children from all forms of bullying by making sure this proven approach is effectively implemented in local schools."
Just a few weeks ago, the NYCLU conducted a workshop in Rochester for school administrators and teachers to provide information about the Dignity Act, which included information about dealing with cyber-bullying.
The NYCLU argues that by criminalizing conduct that is motivated by the intent to "harass, annoy, [and] threaten," the proposed measure would unconstitutionally prohibit speech that courts have ruled are entitled to First Amendment protection, which will open the county to lawsuits. Moreover, under New York law, conduct that rises to the level of harassment and is communicated through electronic means is already a crime.