Civil Liberties

New York State Senators Who Want to Outlaw Cyberbullying Hopefully Just Trolling


In a September report earnestly titled "Cyberbullying: A Report on Bullying for the Digital Age" and released by the Independent Democratic Conference, the interested can thrill to the fact that four supposed adults (those would be New York state Sens. David Valesky, David Carlucci, Diane Savino, and Jeff Klein—all Democrats) could write almost an entire report with their capslock buttons stuck and that public officials can believe the following about the First Amendment.

Let's let The Tech Herald—who have removed the unhinged capitalization—handle this with the excerpt they found most telling:

Proponents of free speech have long argued that a society that puts people on trial for things they have written or said is no longer a truly democratic society….

 A "market place" where citizens could sort through beliefs and ideas, which best resonated with them and discard those that did not, thereby allowing for the creation of an ever-evolving, open society. Moreover, they contend that freedom of speech is a recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And yet, 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. British philosopher John Stuart Mill long argued that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm from others."

 His "harm principle" was articulated in an analogy by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841–1935), and still holds true today: "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins," or, a person's right to free speech ends when it severely infringes upon the safety and well-being of another…

In the case of cyberbullying, the perceived protections of free speech are exactly what enable harmful speech and cruel behavior on the Internet. It is the notion that people can post anything they want, regardless of the harm it might cause another person that has perpetuated, if not created, this cyberbullying culture…

Of course a report isn't enough. A bill had to be proposed "to further protect our children" [those under 21]. This bill will "expand the crime of stalking in the third degree to include cyberbullying and (2) expand the crime of manslaughter in the second degree to involve the emerging problem of bullycide." 

The report's definition of cyberbullying includes "trolling," "flaming," "happy slapping," "outing," "exclusion," "dissing," and "posting malicious statements or pictures of the victim."

More hilarious and less disturbing, was another New York state senator who repeatedly confused the Fourth and First Amendments in a video he made which advised his constituents on how best to search their children's rooms. 

Reason's archives of speech and First Amendment topics here and here. And of course, on cyberbullying.