First Amendment
One group of senators in New York State is trying to re-define First Amendment rights as First Amendment privileges. Image: Flickr / dcwriterdawn / CC-BY-ND

Cyberbullying is the issue de jour for many lawmakers. In New York state, one conference of lawmakers is hoping to take cyberbullying head-on — by making the First Amendment a “privilege” rather than a right.

Trying to define the First Amendment

In a report written by the Independent Democratic Conference of the New York State Senate, new cyberbullying laws are suggested. In order to address the concern that cyberbullying regulations may violate the First Amendment rights of citizens, the report outlines that:

Proponents of a more refined First Amendment argue that this freedom should be treated not as a right but as a privilege — a special entitlement granted by the state on a conditional basis that can be revoked if it is ever abused or maltreated.

In short, the report claims that the First Amendment should be treated as a government-granted privilege, not a fundamental right.

What senators consider cyberbullying

The New York state senators behind the report point out that in many situations, “cyberbulling” is very loosely defined, if at all. The definitions that the report suggests are behaviors that are common online, such as:

“TROLLING” (DELIBERATELY AND DECEITFULLY POSTING INFORMATION TO ENTICE GENUINELY HELPFUL PEOPLE TO RESPOND (OFTEN EMOTIONALLY), OFTEN DONE TO PROVOKE OTHERS);

and

LEAVING IMPROPER MESSAGES ON ONLINE MESSAGE BOARDS OR SENDING HURTFUL AND DAMAGING MESSAGES TO OTHERS;

And violating these definitions would, if these new laws are passed in New York state, carry heavy punishments. Stalking in the third degree would cover cyberbullying, and manslaughter in the second degree would cover suicides hastened or caused by bullying.

Finding a balance

Trying to balance protections of freedom of speech and protection from criminal activity has proved very difficult. In a few, select situations, bullies have been criminally prosecuted when their actions resulted in the death of their victims. Simply being unpleasant to others, however, has never been considered a crime. The First Amendment provides a right to free speech, a right that has been limited in a very few situations, almost all of which have been very heavily litigated.

Sources

TechDirt: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111001/00002316160/ny-state-senators-say-weve-got-too-much-free-speech-introduce-bill-to-fix-that.shtml
MarketWatch: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nations-largest-campaign-against-cyberbullying-is-launched-teens-are-challenged-to-find-solutions-to-these-attacks-2011-10-04?reflink=MW_news_stmp
MTV: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1671547/cyberbullying-sexting-mtv-ap-survey.jhtml

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