Maryland The Latest State To Trample The First Amendment With Quixotic Attempt To Outlaw 'Cyberbullying'

from the this-again?!? dept

Cyberbullying seems to be a popular moral panic point for many politicians, who are just sure that (a) it's a huge huge problem impacting lots of kids and (b) the "cyber" element somehow makes it much, much worse than everyday bullying among kids. We've seen various states like Arizona and Louisiana pass absolutely ridiculous First Amendment-destroying laws trying to stamp out the scourge of people being jerks online. All of this despite the evidence that cyberbullying is a pretty minor thing, and the laws do little to stop what actual bullying happens online.

So, given all that, Maryland appears to be the next to spit on the First Amendment with its own "anti-cyberbullying legislation," which, like the others, seems to want to outlaw being a jerk online, if that behavior is directed at a child. While the bill the Assembly passed took out some of the worst language, it still has massive problems:
While electronic annoyance of an adult becomes criminal only if it continues after a request to stop, no such triggering provision is included for behavior that may annoy a minor. (And as I read it, there is no requirement that the defendant know that the person being subjected to intentional emotional distress is a minor — engaging in a vigorous “flame war” with a Maryland resident might turn out to be criminal if the username “ParentInLinthicum” turns out to conceal a teenage user.) Exceptions are made for speech that is intended to express political views or convey information, a curious pair of exemptions in that it has long been assumed that our First Amendment protects many types of seriously annoying speech other than those two.
In the long run, these kinds of laws only serve to create massive chilling effects on speech, and will, undoubtedly, be used to cause much more trouble for other children. As Walter Olson notes:
We are supposed to support this law — and some lawmakers I admire did support it — to show that we care about children. Once on the books, however, this law will assuredly ruin the lives and futures of other kids who will be the subject of investigations and prosecutions, and not all those kids are monsters whose ruin we should accept with equanimity
Yes, bullying sucks, but passing a law that ignores the First Amendment is never going to stop kids from saying mean things to one another -- though it might just put them in hellish situations in which they're prosecuted for doing things that kids do.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    silverscarcat (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 8:56am

    Tsk...

    stuff like this makes me disgusted.

    Here, this is what I think about it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_ZiRT8Nwkk - NSFW, harsh language.

     

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      AzureSky (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 1:23pm

      Re: Tsk...

      thanks for the video, I still cant find the one I had that shows "bullying" on a bus...."bullying" being name calling and a bit of shoving......

      when i was in school that would have been a good day.....this coming from a fat, geeky red head(aka fire crotch) that got untold amounts of shit from people from preschool all the way thru highschool....

      My view is, society for far to long has been doing all it can to keep stupid people from killing/harming themselves.

      watch the movie idocracy and i really feel thats where we are headed...

      I say, if people are so weak/stupid they are going to off themselves over words, LET THEM, dont rty and stop it.....there genes shouldnt be in the genepool if they are that weak.

      if somebody is so stupid they blow off some fingers or a hand with fireworks, let them, just dont give them disability when they do....dont punish the rest of us for the actions of total rtards....

      mind, I dont think most mentally disabled people are even close to as stupid as some of the true moron rednecks I have worked with....i mean the kinda guy who will smoke a cig as they use gasoline to clean engine parts....

      bah....I say again, we need to stop coddling the stupid....let natural selection decide who breeds and who offs themselves.

       

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    Ninja (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 10:24am

    Sometimes all it takes is having a honest conversation with the bully and things are solved. Sometimes stricter measures are needed but unless there's serious threat in the bullying behavior no actual judicial process should be even considered. Sometimes the bully doesn't understand he/she is bullying. Looking back to my teenage days there were things I did that I thought to be just jokes and meant no harm that would easily classify as bullying.

    But nvm, go ahead and criminalize your youth. In the future when everybody is a felon for some petty and absurd reason everybody will be equal again.

     

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      crade (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      But assuming you are convinced that the judicial process should be involved, why the heck would you think we need a different one depending on whether or it involves a computer?

       

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        ltlw0lf (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 10:58am

        Re: Re:

        I tend to agree with the "war on kids" documentary. At some point the folks in power decided that we shouldn't have kids in society. Kids had to become small adults. I don't know who started this, but I sure as hell wish it would stop.

        There is all sorts of stuff that happened when I was a kid that would never be allowed in our current society. Run around in the dark with a water pistol, playing water tag, hell no...you'll get killed by the police. Draw pictures of stuff you like (movies, television shows, etc.) hell no, you'll get arrested for drawing pictures of guns and space ship battles.

        We seem to be spending a lot of time breaking our kids for the sake of "for the children." I just don't understand what it is meant to accomplish.

         

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          Ninja (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:35am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I don't know who started this, but I sure as hell wish it would stop.

          I'm not sure. I think that we actually gave them a better childhood for a while (100, 200 years ago kids as young as 12 were already being thrown up into adulthood). However we went a little bit too far and kept them locked into a rosy fantasy made up world fearing that too much exposure would harm them. And along with it we elevated the bar of "childhood" into absurd ages (ie over 18). Now we are seeing the obvious result that is infantilized adults that can't cope with many things that adults would. And they are in key power positions.

          Of course these aren't the only reasons.

           

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          G Thompson (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          For both you and ninja (read your insider chat comments) here's another article about USA weirdness in relation to minors that will most likely get your blood boiling *sigh*

          http://apublicdefender.com/2013/04/09/treating-juveniles-as-adults-there-are-no-winners/

          The last two paragraphs say it all.

           

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            ltlw0lf (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:56am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Yup. We have only ourselves to blame (of course, I blame the soccer moms...but that may be just passing the buck.)

            I remember making mistakes as a kid. I was lucky enough to learn from them. I don't make those mistakes now as an adult because I learned from them as a kid. While I never did something this bad (I had good parents, and I doubt, very seriously, that either would have just dropped me off at the courthouse and left, never to be seen from again,) there are plenty of things I did that could have landed me in trouble at the time.

            I have to remind myself this from time to time, when some kid makes a mistake. It is so easy to get upset, but the truth is, unless they are doing something that could get themselves or others seriously hurt, it isn't really worth making anything a federal case out of.

             

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          Davey, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:49am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's meant to accomplish an easy, brainless political win for "protecting the children". The consequences don't matter because "but look at the headlines".

          You nailed it with the "breaking our kids" line. That's the dream of the campaigners -- hang threats over their heads for acting like kids just like you "fix" a dog for acting like a dog. We have to protect the kids from the experience of freedom so they'll transition more easily to life as cogs in the American plutocracy.

           

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          The Real Michael, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 1:26pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's social engineering, plain and simple. They want to dumb-down, confuse and ultimately destroy our youths' will-power so that they'll grow up complacent and docile with no will to achieve, leeching off the system and never questioning authority. Telling every child that they're automatically a winner, an achiever, handing them awards/trophies without having to earn it first, gives them a skewed perspective of the real world, not to mention a false sense of security.

          "The man who makes no mistakes usually doesn't make anything." I don't know who the author of that quote is but it's true. Learning from your mistakes and failures gives you emotional strength and develops character.

          "Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will" ~ Mahatma Gandhi

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:15am

        Re: Re:

        Exactly. The relevant text of the bill is as follows (from http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2013RS/bills/hb/hb0396t.pdf)

        (2) A PERSON MAY NOT USE AN INTERACTIVE COMPUTER SERVICE TO MALICIOUSLY ENGAGE IN A COURSE OF CONDUCT THAT INFLICTS SERIOUS EMOTIONAL DISTRESS ON A MINOR OR PLACES A MINOR IN REASONABLE FEAR OF DEATH OR SERIOUS BODILY INJURY WITH THE INTENT:
        (I) TO KILL, INJURE, HARASS, OR CAUSE SERIOUS EMOTIONAL DISTRESS TO THE MINOR; OR
        (II) TO PLACE THE MINOR IN REASONABLE FEAR OF DEATH OR SERIOUS BODILY INJURY.

        So, what, it's OK as long as you don't use an interactive computer service?

        And wait, even if you have the intent to KILL the minor, that's a misdemeanor?

        Oh, and also. "SUBSECTION (B)(1) OF THIS section does not apply to a peaceable activity intended to express a political view or provide information to others." But what I posted above is in subsection (B)(2). Which means that even this small protection does not apply. And it's clear from the markup that they did this intentionally - the original version just said "this section".

        Which means that they intentionally criminalize "a peaceable activity intended to express a political view or provide information to others".

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:11am

    Seems like the guy that said we should ban children just might be right.

     

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      ltlw0lf (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      Seems like the guy that said we should ban children just might be right.

      I'd be more apt to ban politicians. The world would be a much better place for the children. Especially when you think about the statistics involved. Your kid is more likely to die in a automobile collision than they are to be pushed to commit suicide by a bully. Especially if you are a good parent and are involved in your kids lives, instead of using the TV/Internet as a babysitter.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:23am

    Liberty

    What is Liberty? It’s the default of the US Constitution (“Freedom” of Speech, the Press, Religion and Assembly)

    Who should enjoy Liberty? The “Innocent until Proven guilty”, law abiding citizens in the US.

    Should Liberty be subjugated to fear? If people are afraid of what you might say, should you be prevented from saying it?

    Should EVERONE be subjugated and prevented from speaking due to what a "jerk" online says and held responsible for what they say?

    Law abiding citizens are being linked and subjugated to the fear that groups hold regarding the actions of others/criminals. The purveyors are implying that the law abiding citizens, who are Innocent until Proven guilty, CANNOT BE TRUSTED because of the actions of a others/criminals.

    Fear is not the default to decide who gets married, who gets to speak, which religion to practice or if a law abiding citizen can own a gun.

    Liberty demands that all law abiding citizens MUST be draped in the full rights of innocence and NOT connected and subjugated to acts perpetrated by others.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:34am

      Re: Liberty

      Innocent until proven guilty is scary to a government. That is why they create so many laws. Basically innocent until proven guilty is now innocent but assume guilty. That way if they can't get your for what your have been charged with, they will get you with something else.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:39am

      Re: Liberty

      We should also ban & tear down all movie theaters because there is a "threat" of someone yelling fire in a theater.

       

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      Anonymous, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 6:07pm

      Re: Liberty?

      "Law abiding citizen". In other words, someone who does what the government tells him to do and doesn't do what the government forbids him to do. How is that liberty?

       

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    dpaus (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:25am

    As long as it cuts both ways

    Well, at least they're not also trying to outlaw the use of social media to seek action from elected officials when kids die from cyberbullying.

     

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    dpaus (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:26am

    ....aaaand now the link:

     

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    Michael, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:39am

    If children do not learn to deal with bullies, how are they supposed to understand how to deal with lawyers and politicians when they become adults?

     

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      Davey, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

      Re:

      I guess they're supposed to keep running to their mommies for the rest of their lives. Too bad the plutocracy is working hard to kill off the mommies once they're no longer "productive" like lawyers and politicians and bankers.

       

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      Digitari, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 12:09pm

      Re:

      this is the exact reason for "gun control" The government wants to ban guns so that the next generation has no recourse.

      I'm not saying that Government Officials and Politicians should be shot,However they should be WELL AWARE it's part and parcel to the Job description.(if they find that offensive, then maybe they should not take the job/office)

      a pliant populous is easily led populous, regardless of the "will" of the people.

      I personally believe that "dueling" should make a come back and be legal.

      It's keeps those in power more humble, and more willing to listen to the populous.

      Voting is to easily rigged/bought for the common man to have any say.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 11:50am

    do the people who think of these bills ever get other opinions on whether they will:
    a) do what is intended
    b) have any harmful effects
    c) if there are any possible adverse effects noted, do they ever alter the bills
    d) ignore everything just so as to have their name on something
    e) ever get sued because of an adverse effect of a badly thought out and/or written bill

     

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      Digitari, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 12:14pm

      Re:

      that is all countered by

      a)how much money will I make
      b)how many votes will that money buy me
      c)what 6 figure job can I get when out of office
      d)how big will my personal bank account be after leaving office

       

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    Tim Edwards (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 12:57pm

    I love my state!

    I have lived here in Maryland all my life, and its just getting worse and worse. I still have no clue why "cyberbullying" is any different than any other bullying. Everywhere we turn these days everyone wants to shelter the children from things that may make them feel bad. NEWS FLASH - LIFE IS CRUEL! When you set a child loose on the world that hasnt been allowed to experience failure or loss, you get adults that cant cope with pressure and give up after the first sign of failure. Those are the same adults that think its ok for the government to take away the rights of others just to make them feel "safe". The only people that will abide by the flurry of new laws being doled out are the same people that were already following the old ones. Criminals by definition dont care what gets written on a piece of paper that makes some touchy-feely whiner feel better, they do what they want to do.

     

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    mattshow (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 1:12pm

    Two wrongs make a right

    (And as I read it, there is no requirement that the defendant know that the person being subjected to intentional emotional distress is a minor — engaging in a vigorous “flame war” with a Maryland resident might turn out to be criminal if the username “ParentInLinthicum” turns out to conceal a teenage user.)

    In that situation, if that teenager thought that being cyber-bullied was unpleasant, they're really going to dislike life after after they get charged under the CFAA for misrepresenting their age and end up in juvenile hall.

     

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    meddle (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 3:16pm

    What is awesome here is that there as a real potential that if I email somebody and tell them I am going to punch them, the penalty could be greater than if I actually did walk up and punch them. I am sorry I moved to Maryland with all the craziness. But we are just the first. Soon all states will be this way.

     

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    Miff (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 3:57pm

    You know

    I don't think "actual bullying" (aka assault, battery, petty theft, etc) is illegal anywhere. :/

     

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